On August 15, 2012, the USCIS began to accept applications from applicants who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. The program is available to foreign nationals who meet the following criteria:
- Are under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.
- Came to the United States before reaching his/her 16th birthday.
- Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007 up to the present date.
- Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012 and at the time of making his/her request for consideration of deferred action with the USCIS.
- Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012 or his/her lawful immigration status expired on or before June 15, 2012.
- Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a Certificate of Completion from high school, have obtained a GED Certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.
- Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor (including DUI), three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
USCIS emphasized that the program does not confer lawful status upon a foreign national. However, an individual whose case has been deferred is eligible to receive an Employment Authorization Document ("EAD") for the period of deferred action, provided he or she can demonstrate "an economic necessity for employment". The granting of deferred action will be in two-year increments. However, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") can terminate or renew deferred action at any time at the agency's discretion. USCIS estimates that an estimated 1.76 million foreign nationals may qualify for benefits through the program.
Although foreign nationals who are eligible for deferred action may receive an EAD card, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has indicated that foreign nationals who are eligible for deferred action through this program will not be eligible for Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program ("CHIP"). Also, the governors of Texas, Arizona and Nebraska have indicated that foreign nationals who are eligible for this program will not be entitled to any state benefits in those states, including driver's license. Additionally, ICE officers have filed a lawsuit in a District Court in Texas to enjoin DHS from further implementing the program. The lawsuit alleges that the program violates federal law and requires ICE officers to violate their oaths to uphold and implement current federal law. This lawsuit is currently pending with the Texas District Court. Finally, USCIS has indicated that it will not be hiring additional staff to adjudicate the estimated 1.7 million filings through this program. Therefore, it is assumed that processing times at all of the USCIS Service Centers for its other benefits (including nonimmigrant petitions, immigrant petitions, EAD cards, etc.) will significantly increase in order to accommodate the processing of applications through this new program.