Can DACA recipients become US citizens?

Gabriela Peratello

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA holders are also often referred to as Dreamers. The DACA policy, set out in 2012, allows for people who arrived in the US as children to have any immigration removal procedures against them deferred for 2 years, with the possibility of renewal. DACA recipients may also be eligible to work — although holding DACA status is not in itself proof of your legal right to remain in the US in the long term¹.

The DACA path to citizenship is a topic of much debate. This guide walks through some key points you need to know about.

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Why can’t DACA recipients apply for US citizenship?

DACA recipients are not able to apply for US citizenship on the basis of their DACA status².

DACA status does not mean you’re considered to be lawfully in the US. It only means that any action against you has been deferred on a temporary basis. This policy was put in place to allow immigration authorities to focus on priority cases, looking at removing people who were illegally in the US and may pose a security threat.

Although it is a fairly wide reaching and long standing policy, DACA does not in itself resolve the issue of US citizenship for someone who came to the US as a child. Further decisions would need to be made and approved in congress for DACA recipients to have a clear path to citizenship.

Is there a path for DACA recipients to become permanent residents?

It’s worth noting up front that the options open to DACA recipients are currently limited, but being debated frequently in Congress and the Senate. This means it’s well worth watching developments to see if or when changes occur.

Because the situation is complex and changing, it’s also worth getting professional legal advice if you’re trying to work out your options to become a permanent resident of the US. Non-profit organizations exist to help DACA holders with limited resources get the help and information they need.

At present the options for a DACA holder to get permanent resident status will depend on a few things. If you meet the lawful entry requirement for permanent resident status — which means you held legal status when you entered the US, but your lawful status later lapsed — applying for a Green Card may be easier.

If you do not meet the lawful entry requirement you may need to apply for Advance Parole, to leave the US and reenter lawfully. However, this may mean you have to return to your country of birth, and wait out an entry bar.

Once you have lawfully entered the US you may be able to apply for a Green Card if you have an immediate relative who is a US citizen or holds a Green Card.

DACA recipients and marriage based Green Cards

One way to stay legally in the US if you’re married to a US citizen and hold DACA status is to apply for a marriage based Green Card. Whether or not this is possible for you will depend on a few things, including whether or not you held lawful status when you originally entered the US. In all cases you’ll want to get legal advice before applying for your Green Card, as this is a complex and changing area of immigration law.

At the time of writing, some common situations — and some options — are as follows:

SituationMarriage Green Card option
DACA holder entered the US initially with lawful status, and overstayedApply for a Green Card under normal process
DACA holder who entered the US without lawful status, now holds an Advance Parole documentLeave the US and reenter lawfully using your Advance Parole document. Apply for a Green Card under normal process
DACA holder who applied for DACA status under the age of 18, or within 180 days of turning 18Leave the US and apply for a marriage Green Card via your local embassy, under normal process
DACA holder who applied for DACA status more than 180 days after turning 18You’ll usually need to leave the US and wait out an entry ban of up to 10 years before you can apply for a Green Card. You may be able to file a waiver request via a lawyer to avoid this — take legal advice as soon as you can
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Immigration processes are complex at the best of times. When it comes to DACA recipients, the situation is even more complicated, with varying ideas and options about how the policy should develop and evolve. If you’re a Dreamer looking to become a US citizen, do seek out all the resources available to you to get legal and practical advice and support. And watch this space as the situation moves forward over time.


Sources:

  1. USCIS - Consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals
  2. USCIS - Consideration of DACA FAQ

Sources checked on 08.27.2021


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