On Dec. 7, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services made an announcement that had been anticipated by thousands for over two years: new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be immediately accepted.
The news gave Darian Benitez Sanchez goosebumps, he said. For him, the announcement opened the door to the temporary program that grants protection from deportation and a renewable work permit. Even though Benitez Sanchez has met all the eligibility requirements to apply for DACA for about two years, changes to DACA made by the Trump administration in 2017 have blocked him from this temporary benefit.
“You can’t keep yourself from being excited,” Benitez Sanchez, a senior at Brophy Preparatory High School, said. “I received so many calls from family and friends checking in on how I felt… Everyone is really excited.”
Yet, he’s cautious. Benitez Sanchez remembers feeling a similar euphoria in June, when the Supreme Court found that the Trump administration broke the law when it rescinded DACA in 2017.
But instead of reinstating the program to its original 2012 criteria, as thousands of immigrant youth and their advocates hoped, USCIS issued a statement calling DACA an “amnesty program” and asserting that its beneficiaries “take jobs Americans need now more than ever.” In a July memo, Chad Wolf, the acting DHS secretary — who was illegally appointed to the post — issued new DACA rules to reject all new and pending initial applications and reduce work permit validity to one year, instead of two.
On Dec. 4, a federal judge in New York threw out that memo. As a result, USCIS announced this week that new DACA applications will be accepted for the first time in years. Permits issued for a one-year period would be extended to two years, USCIS said.
In three days, more than 200 people have reached to out Aliento, a community group that advocates for DACA youth and undocumented students, seeking information about the DACA program, said Reyna Montoya, the organization’s founder. She said she knows of at least 50 people who have their application packets ready to submit to USCIS.
According to estimates from Bloomberg CityLab, there are approximately 23,000 Arizona residents who can benefit from DACA. This estimate includes people who are still too young to apply and others who don’t meet the education requirement (to have a high school diploma or be enrolled in school), but otherwise meet the program requirements. People can apply for DACA once they turn 15.
Last year, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that every year 2,000 undocumented students who could have been protected by DACA graduate from Arizona high schools.
Currently, there are 24,140 state residents who benefit from DACA, according to USCIS.
An April analysis from the Center for American Progress estimates that DACA recipients and their households in the Phoenix, Scottsdale and Mesa area contribute $148 million in federal taxes, $80 million in state and local taxes, and have a spending power of about $700 million every year.
Who can apply for DACA
To be eligible for the program, applicants must:
- Have been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
- Arrived in the U.S. before turning 16;
- Have continuously lived in the US since June 15, 2007 up to present time;
- Were physically present in the US on June 15, 2012;
- Have no lawful status (like a visa or green card);
- Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
- Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor,or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
DACA applicants have to pay $495 to be considered for the program. The total cost might be higher if applicants consult or work with a lawyer.
Applying for DACA is a document-heavy process
According to advocates, one of the most challenging parts of applying for DACA is the document-gathering process to prove applicants were in the country on June 12, 2012 and have lived in the country continuously since June 15, 2007.
Benitez Sanchez arrived in the US in 2007 from Mexico. He was 2. He and his family have for years collected documentation, he said.
“We have kept a lot of receipts, any proof of rent or ordinary payments, medical bills,” Benitez Sanchez said.
He said he’ll send in his DACA application as soon as he gets the green light from his lawyer.
Daniel Hernandez, a student at Grand Canyon University, has to arrange payment of fees to submit his DACA application.
“I knew DACA was going to come around, but I wasn’t expecting it as soon as it did,” he said.
Seeing the USCIS announcement brought him joy, he said.
“I just want to be able to do what everybody else does without having to fear being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Hernandez said.
The opening of DACA applications isn’t permanent. A federal court case in Texas where a judge is considering whether DACA is legal or not could be decided before Christmas.