How Should DACA Recipients Protect Themselves With Trump in Office?

By Ilona Bray, J.D., University of Washington Law School
Although DACA may end, your options aren't out yet.

If you have been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA—meaning that you came to the U.S. as a young person and have been going to school here and staying out of trouble—you are probably and rightfully worried as you read the rhetoric being delivered by Donald J. Trump about his incoming administration.

No one can say for sure what the Trump Administration will do with the DACA program. He made many statements about cancelling Executive Orders issued by President Obama (and DACA was created by Executive Order)—within his first 100 days, no less—and has spoken of wanting to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. But his initial executive orders did not cover DACA, and there have been rumblings that he is trying to create a softer transition.

In view of that, what should you do?

See an Immigration Attorney for a Review of Your Options

Perhaps DACA was the best remedy you could qualify for at the time—but might there be a better one for you now?

For example, if you have married a U.S. citizen, or your parents have recently become citizens, or you are needed by U.S. law enforcement as a witness to (or victim of) a crime, or you have reason to fear going back to your home country, you might qualify for a green card or asylum.

Even if you don't, attorneys will be working on ways to find alternate, temporary remedies until Congress undertakes real immigration reform.

If Your DACA Is Up for Renewal Soon, Consider Renewing It—Pronto

Depending on when you are reading this, there’s a slim chance that you might have enough time to submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—and that USCIS will have enough time to make a decision. (There's hardly any risk to renewing, given that the U.S. government already knows you're here unlawfully.)

USCIS gets very backed up with requests, but has been pushing these applications through within about eight weeks.

If You Are Outside the U.S. on Advance Parole, Come Back

By using a procedure called “Advance Parole,” many DACA recipients were able to travel outside the U.S. for the first time in years. For example, students were able to study abroad, and others took trips in order to make their most recent entry to the U.S. a lawful one (which is beneficial for those who wish to adjust status in the U.S. based on separate legal grounds, such as a family relationship).

But if you are outside the U.S. or planning to be soon, and DACA gets canceled, your Advance Parole document may not get you back into the country. It would be safer to arrange to return to the U.S. before Trump takes action on DACA.

Avoid Trouble

Activities that U.S. citizens might not think twice about, such as passing a marijuana joint at a party, can get a non-citizen in big trouble. Do your best to stay well away from any activity that might draw the attention of law enforcement agents and possibly lead to something negative on your record--and then deportation.

Don't Panic, and Keep Your Eye on the News

Both immigration advocates and members of Congress are looking for a way to create a remedy, or at least ease the transition for, people who currently have DACA. Watch and learn who the trustworthy purveyors of information are—and don’t fall for the many scammers who are liable to step in and offer fakes remedies at a time when many feel vulnerable. You may have more time than you think. Regardless of Trump's rhetoric, the U.S. government does not currently have anywhere close to enough officers to implement deportations on the scale he has promised.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do I have any new opportunities for a green card or temporary status that we haven't discussed before?
  • What will happen if I receive a notice to appear for immigration court proceedings?
  • Do I have any good defenses to deportation?
  • Does it make sense for me to change addresses or go into hiding?
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