Homeland Security announced a new regulation Wednesday designed to put the DACA program for illegal immigrant “Dreamers” on firmer legal footing.
The department has gone back and conducted the thorough rulemaking that the Obama administration skipped over when it first created the program in 2012. The Biden administration hopes the step will answer the objections of several federal courts that have ruled the original program cut too many procedural corners.
Issuing a formal regulation makes it more difficult for a future administration to erase the program.
But the new policy does not address more fundamental questions about such a broad categorical grant of tentative legal status to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants. Those questions could still end up sinking the program in the courts.
President Biden said of the move, “We are fulfilling our commitment to preserve and strengthen DACA by finalizing a rule that will reinforce protections, like work authorization, that allow Dreamers to live more freely and to invest in their communities more fully.”
“I will do everything within my power to protect Dreamers, but Congressional Republicans should stop blocking a bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers,” the president said. “It is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do for our economy and our communities.”
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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the new regulation, which spans more than 400 pages, protects “young people who contribute so much to our communities and our country.”
“Today, we are taking another step to do everything in our power to preserve and fortify DACA, an extraordinary program that has transformed the lives of so many Dreamers,” he said.
The announcement comes 10 years after DACA first took effect on Aug. 15, 2012.
Over the years it has covered more than 800,000 people, and currently grants protection to about 600,000 people.
To qualify, they must have come to the U.S. under age 16, have been here at least five years and been in the country at the time DACA was first enacted, and have kept a relatively clean criminal record.
The new policy specifically says that expunged convictions, juvenile adjudications and immigration-related felony offenses under state laws won’t count against Dreamers.
Homeland Security says the premise of DACA is that Dreamers should not be priorities for deportation.
The program goes beyond that, though, in offering Dreamers a near-categorical shield against deportation. It also offers benefits they wouldn’t normally be eligible for, including work permits, which entitle them to some taxpayer perks and give them a chance to deepen roots in society.
A federal court in Texas has issued an injunction against the original DACA program over legal questions, and that remains in place.
Those who already have DACA remain protected under the new policy, and can seek renewals of their two-year permits when their current permit expires. But under the injunction, no new permits can be issued.
The average DACA recipient arrived at 6 years old, meaning for many the U.S. is the only country they have real memories of.
Homeland Security said the program has given them a chance to contribute to their communities, including 30,000 who have become health care workers.
The program does not include an explicit pathway to legal status, though it does allow one through the process of parole. If a DACA recipient could otherwise gain legal status but for their illegal presence, they can obtain permission to leave the country and re-enter and have an initial illegal re-entry from years ago wiped away.