On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and permitted only a subset of current DACA recipients, whose protections were set to expire on or before March 5, 2018, to file renewal applications. Predictably, this action created a March 6 cliff, where the bulk of DACA-protected individuals would begin to lose status. At the time, President Donald Trump made clear that it was the responsibility of Congress to pass legislation by March 5 to avert that crisis from unfolding. That has not happened.
In January, a federal court entered a preliminary injunction requiring the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to receive and adjudicate DACA renewal applications from young people that have previously received protection under the program. A second court entered a similar injunction weeks later. On Monday, February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the federal government’s unusual request to bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals and review the injunction in the first instance, sending the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.
With all of this unfolding just days away from March 5, there is enormous confusion about what we can expect to see in the months ahead and what the injunctions mean for Congress’ responsibility to pass popular, bipartisan legislation that provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Below are three things that we know.
Hundreds of thousands of DACA-eligible young people continue to be locked out of protection
Since its inception, more than 800,000 young people have applied for and received DACA. Pursuant to the pending injunctions, these individuals are now eligible to apply for additional two-year work permits and protection from deportation under the program.
But the injunctions offer no relief for other DACA-eligible individuals. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the overall total number of individuals who may have been eligible to apply for DACA or who may have become eligible by aging into the program or obtaining additional education was slightly more than 1.8 million.
Certainly, some of these individuals were not able to apply because of a range of factors, including not being able to afford the nearly $500 application cost or fears of sending information about themselves and their loved ones to the government. Now, Because President Trump ended DACA, they are locked out of protection.
Moreover, an estimated 120,000 individuals among the 1.8 million were unable to apply for protection because they had not yet reached 15 years of age at the time that President Trump ended DACA on September 5. For these young Dreamers—who are in middle- or high-school today—the injunctions provide neither protection from the threat of being ripped from their families nor hope that they will be able to one day obtain work authorization and realize the many opportunities that DACA opens up.
Dreamers who were left out of DACA protections remain in jeopardy
In addition to potentially DACA-eligible individuals who either did not—or could not—apply under the program before its termination, an additional 285,000 Dreamers who came to the United States at a similarly young age as DACA recipients and have lived here for even longer were entirely cut out of DACA from the beginning.
The DACA program excluded all otherwise eligible individuals who were 31 years of age or older as of June 15, 2012, when the program was announced. These older Dreamers have developed the longest and deepest ties to U.S. families and communities, having arrived here as children at least 20 years ago. Bipartisan legislation, such as the Dream Act of 2017 and the USA Act of 2018, would get rid of the age cap entirely, remedying this situation. Both bills would similarly extend protection to Dreamers who, years ago, arrived in the country before the age of 18, reaching those excluded from DACA because they arrived as children after their 16th birthday.
All of these individuals, including young people such as 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, who Border Patrol agents arrested in her hospital bed, and older Dreamers such as Jorge Garcia, whose emotional separation from family was captured on video earlier this year, remain vulnerable to detention and deportation.
Current DACA recipients are still losing their status
When the Trump administration ended DACA, it permitted individuals whose DACA expired between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, to apply for renewal. More than 20,000 young people did not renew, thus losing their DACA protections. Prior to March 5, these losses averaged 122 people per day.
New U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data reveal that, even with the court injunctions, only a small share of those eligible have yet filed applications to renew their DACA. Between January 10, the date of the injunction, and January 31, less than 10 percent of those whose DACA expired between September 5 and March 5 applied for renewal. That means the vast majority of individuals whose DACA protections already have expired will not soon regain those protections.
Looking at the nearly 680,000 individuals whose DACA will expire in March and beyond, less than 14,000 had applied for renewals as of January 31.
These statistics are important for two reasons:
First, although anecdotal reports indicate that some individuals already have begun to receive DACA renewals, the agency’s stated goal remains to process renewal applications within 120 days of receipt, and the agency provides no process through which to request expedited review in order to avoid a lapse in protection. Simply having a renewal application on file with USCIS provides no protection from detention and deportation. According to USCIS, as of January 31, there were nearly 14,000 pending renewals from recipients whose DACA had already expired. The expiration of DACA forces people to lose their jobs, driver’s licenses and, in some instances, access to higher education.
Second, unless the rate of renewal applications increases significantly moving forward—and we would expect that more people will apply to renew their permits as they get closer to their expiration date—the number of recipients who will lose status, whether temporarily while they await adjudication on their renewals or indefinitely if they do not apply for renewal, will spike considerably in the months following March 5.
The latest USCIS statistics illustrate that more must be done to protect Dreamers. On the plus side, just by the end of January, 34 percent of the more than 13,000 individuals who stand to lose DACA in March and nearly 30 percent of those who will lose protection in April had renewal applications pending with USCIS. If these trends continue—as DACA recipients whose permits expire later in 2018, for example, apply in higher numbers closer to their expiration dates—many people could end up retaining their protections. But, given the low overall rate of renewal applications to date and the tenuous nature of this renewal window tied to pending litigation, this should not be taken as a given.
National, state, and local organizations can and should do more to increase awareness that DACA recipients can apply to renew their status, and these organizations should help facilitate the process. Likewise, the philanthropic community, as well as civic organizations, businesses, universities, and state and local governments can help to defray the significant costs of renewal. With so little that is under our control at this point, we know this: More DACA renewal applications means fewer people losing their DACA protections in the months ahead.
More than anything though, these data—as well as the large number of Dreamers that remain barred from obtaining protection under DACA despite the court injunctions—underscore the continued need for Congress to pass the Dream Act and provide permanent legislative protections for this population.
Tom Jawetz is the vice president, Nicole Prchal Svajlenka is a senior policy analyst, and Philip E. Wolgin is the managing director for Immigration Policy at American Progress.