FAQ: What to expect as DACA is phased out

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On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump’s decision to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

President Obama created the program in 2012, providing roughly 800,000 young immigrants with temporary relief from deportation and work permits renewable every two years. DACA applies to young, unauthorized immigrants who were brought to United States as minors. More than 200,000 Californians have been granted DACA protection since the program began.

The Trump administration decision left many questions in its wake. Here is what we know:

Q: Does the program die immediately?

No, not right away. According to the Trump administration, which is calling it an "orderly wind down," current DACA recipients are not directly affected until March 5, 2018.

The Department of Homeland Security states on its website that current DACA recipients can keep both their deportation protection and work permits until they expire, "unless terminated or revoked." DACA benefits are generally valid for two years.

But DACA recipients will be subject to a series of steps that go along with the planned phaseout of the program starting Tuesday, the day of the announcement.

Q: What will happen during the phaseout?

New DACA applications will no longer be accepted. Immigration officials will consider application requests "on an individual, case-by-case basis" that have been accepted as of Sept. 5.

Those whose DACA status is set to expire between now and March 5, 2018 may file for renewal once more. But they only have until Oct. 5. Renewal applications that come in after Oct. 5 will be rejected, according to officials. 

For DACA recipients who planned to travel outside the country and applied for "advance parole," a necessary step for DACA recipients who planned to temporarily leave the U.S., they will have to cancel their plans. Homeland Security officials said this morning that pending applications for advance parole for DACA recipients will be canceled. Applicants will have their fees reimbursed.  

Q: What could Congress do between now and March 5?

President Trump and federal officials have placed the fate of DACA recipients in the hands of Congress, saying it is up to lawmakers to act on their status. There is pending legislation in both houses of Congress that would create a path to permanent legal residency status for DACA recipients and others brought to the U.S. as children who are here illegally.

Whether Congress can reach agreement and pass legislation is unclear. There have been several versions of legislation referred to as the "Dream Act" proposed over the past decade and half, but none have become law. A version cleared the House in 2010, but died in the Senate.

Q: What if Congress does not pass legislation and DACA work permits and protection expire?

At that point, those who now have DACA would revert back to unauthorized status, meaning most could not work legally and they would be vulnerable to deportation, although Trump administration officials have said they will not actively seek them out.

Homeland Security officials said DACA applicants' personal information would not be "proactively provided" to immigration agents unless there is a national security or public safety threat.

Federal law bars employers from hiring employees who do not have permission to work legally in the U.S. However, it does not bar unauthorized immigrants from being self-employed. DACA recipients who are self-employed could continue to work above ground, as could those with special skills who work as freelancers and independent contractors.

Others may have to leave their jobs and take work where they can in the underground economy.

Q: Will losing DACA interfere with recipients’ educational plans?

It depends on where DACA participants live and attend schools. Having DACA is not necessary to attend college or other educational institutions. In California, immigrants without legal status were already eligible for in-state tuition, which is less expensive than the out-of-state tuition rates that unauthorized immigrant students once had to pay to attend state schools.

However, not all states provide this benefit. In some states, DACA recipients have been given tuition or enrollment breaks, and thus could potentially be affected if they lose their DACA status.   

Q: Where can DACA recipients turn for legal help?

DACA recipients seeking legal advice should go to a qualified legal professional, like an immigration lawyer or a qualified nonprofit that provides legal services. 

The federal Executive Office for Immigration Review maintains a list of recognized pro bono legal service providers. Local providers on the list include Public Counsel, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Immigrant Defenders Law Center, International Institute of Los Angeles, and Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, a branch of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles.

Immigrant advocates and legal experts warn that DACA recipients should be wary of scam artists who prey on those facing difficult legal situations, such as so-called notarios or unscrupulous immigration consultants. 

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