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First introduced in Congress in 2001, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien (Immigrant) Minors (DREAM) Act aimed to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. However, faced with congressional gridlock, President Obama took unilateral action in 2012, instituting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. This blog post delves into the intricacies of DACA, its current status, and what it means for those it protects.

What is DACA?

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a critical U.S. immigration policy designed to shield certain individuals—commonly referred to as DREAMers—from deportation and grant them authorization to legally live and work in the United States. It offers a lifeline to those who arrived in the country as children through no fault of their own and are unlawfully present.

Renewing and Traveling with DACA

Individuals who already have DACA can renew their status and employment authorization every two years. However, certain criteria must be met, including continuous residence in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, and a clean criminal record.

DACA recipients may seek permission to travel internationally for specific purposes, such as education or humanitarian endeavors. However, traveling outside the United States, even with permission, can carry legal risks, emphasizing the importance of consulting an immigration attorney beforehand.

How Criminal Records Impact DACA Renewal Opportunities

Renewing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status involves specific eligibility criteria, including considerations regarding the applicant’s criminal record. Individuals with certain criminal records may be disqualified from renewing their DACA status. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), here are the main guidelines regarding criminal matters for DACA renewal:

  1. Felony Convictions: Any individual convicted of a felony will be disqualified from DACA renewal. A felony is typically defined as a serious crime usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death.
  2. Significant Misdemeanor Convictions: A significant misdemeanor may also disqualify an individual from renewing DACA. This includes misdemeanors regardless of the sentence imposed, which involve:
    Violence, threats, or assault, including domestic violence.
    Sexual abuse or exploitation.
    Burglary, larceny, or fraud.
    Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
    Obstruction of justice or bribery.
    Unlawful flight from arrest, prosecution, or the scene of an accident.
    Unlawful possession or use of a firearm.
    Drug distribution or trafficking.
    Any other misdemeanor for which the individual was sentenced to more than 90 days in custody (not suspended).
  3. Multiple Misdemeanor Convictions: Individuals with three or more misdemeanor offenses (not occurring on the same date and not arising out of the same act, omission, or scheme of misconduct) are also ineligible for DACA renewal, regardless of whether those misdemeanors are considered significant.
  4. Other Criminal Conduct: USCIS may also consider other unlawful acts that might not result in arrest or conviction in determining DACA eligibility, potentially affecting the renewal process.

    Applicants who are considering renewing their DACA but have criminal records should consult with an immigration attorney to understand how their criminal history might affect their eligibility. This consultation is crucial because the interpretation of what constitutes a significant misdemeanor or other disqualifying offense can be complex and may require legal analysis.

Current Status of DACA: Navigating Legal and Political Landscapes

On August 30, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took a significant step by publishing regulations aimed at formalizing and safeguarding the DACA program. While these regulations didn’t expand DACA or introduce notable changes, they did offer crucial safeguards and clarifications. Individuals need to seek guidance from immigration attorneys to understand how these regulatory updates might impact their specific circumstances.

Despite DACA now being a federal regulation, its future remains embroiled in legal battles, with several states persistently challenging the program in federal courts. However, amidst ongoing litigation, USCIS continues to accept and approve DACA renewal applications, providing a glimmer of hope for those reliant on its protections.

Current Legal Roadblocks: The Suspension of New DACA Applications

The status of new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications has been significantly impacted by ongoing legal challenges. Currently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is not accepting new DACA applications from individuals who have never been granted DACA before. This suspension is a result of a July 2021 ruling by a federal judge in Texas, which concluded that the DACA program was implemented unlawfully and thus blocked the government from approving any new applications.

However, the judge’s ruling did allow for the continuation of DACA renewals. This means that while individuals who currently have or previously had DACA can apply for renewal, those who qualify but have never been previously granted DACA cannot apply due to the injunction.

This situation remains fluid, with potential changes pending future court decisions or legislative actions. Legal developments could alter the availability of DACA for new applicants, so it’s important for potential applicants and their advocates to stay informed about the latest updates in the litigation.

Meanwhile, in Congress, various proposals have been put forth to establish a pathway to permanent residence for DACA recipients. However, as of now, none of these proposals have secured approval, leaving DREAMers and advocates alike in a state of uncertainty regarding their long-term immigration status.


For many DREAMers, DACA represents hope and stability in an uncertain landscape. While challenges persist, understanding the intricacies of DACA and staying informed about its evolving status are crucial steps for those seeking protection under this vital program.

Nadine Heitz

Nadine Heitz is an immigration attorney in Lake Worth, Florida where she helps her clients obtain legal status in the United States. Book your consultation with her to find out how to solve your immigration issues and achieve your desired goals.