The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has taken center stage at the United States Capitol in recent years as lawmakers and Americans struggle to define the program’s parameters and constitutionality. Through it all, one of the most frequently asked questions by Americans and immigrants alike continues to be, “Can DACA recipients become citizens?”
Currently, the DACA program does not provide a simple, direct path to citizenship in the United States, but that could change in the near future depending on movement in the legislative and judicial branches of government.
The DACA Program
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was established in 2012. The program is thought to have been created with a primary goal of shielding individuals entering the United States as children from deportation. The program also dictated that those who received DACA status could then seek to renew their status every two years.
In 2017, the DACA program was challenged as being unconstitutional, which eventually resulted in the mandate that no new DACA applications be accepted until further notice. In other words, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is not accepting DACA applications from individuals who have never before received a DACA status. Despite halting the acceptance of new applications, those individuals who already have DACA status may still be allowed to apply for renewal.
Currently, the DACA program and its parameters are under review by the United States Supreme Court. A final ruling from the court is expected sometime in 2020 and could further modify the above guidelines.
What DACA Status Means For Recipients
It is estimated that to date, DACA status has been issued to more than 750,000 individuals. These individuals, often labeled to as Dreamers, are thought to be primarily in their twenties and thirties and fairly diverse in their origins.
Those individuals who already have obtained DACA status are generally allowed to remain in the United States. In addition, some DACA recipients may also:
- Be eligible to acquire work permits
- Obtain employer provided health insurance
- Receive education funding
- Have access to state-subsidized healthcare
Can DACA recipients become citizens?
As of January 2020, the DACA program does not provide an open path to United States citizenship. However, the House of Representatives passed a bill titled H.R.6 – American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 in June of the same year which could potentially change that. The bill is on the Senate Legislative Calendar awaiting review.
If passed into law, this bill could provide DACA recipients with a step toward permanent resident status. Courtesy of the bill, a pathway to citizenship could be established through avenues such as military service or green cards. The bill also proposes the following:
- The cancellation of removal proceedings against some aliens entering the United States as minors and with potential permanent residence status for ten years if certain qualifications are met
- Streamlined procedures leading to permanent residence for DACA recipients that are approved for renewal
- Removal of a conditional permanent resident status if certain requirements are met
- Cancellation of removal proceedings for individuals qualifying for temporary protected status or deferred enforced departure status on certain dates
- A Department of Homeland Security established grant program for nonprofits assisting individuals with certain immigration-related issues
While the constitutionality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may still be in question until an official ruling from the United States Supreme Court is handed down, for now there are no new applications for DACA status being accepted and there remains no direct pathway to citizenship, even for those who have already received DACA status.