Under long-awaited DACA rule change, legal challenges mean first-time applicants are still barred
The Department of Homeland Security has issued its long-awaited rule change on DACA, the Obama-era program that has given tens of thousands of undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children protection from deportation and a work permit.
The Biden administration proposed this rule change last September to fortify DACA. Almost a year later, those challenges have only deepened. First-time applicants have been barred from applying since February thanks to a federal court ruling in Texas. The case is now with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which could side with Texas and rule the program illegal.
Jose Patiño, a DACA recipient and the vice president of education and external affairs at the Phoenix-based immigrant advocacy group, Aliento, says he hoped the new rule would change that. Instead, first time applications are still blocked because of the ongoing Texas suit.
"It seems like it's more of the same, they’re very cognizant of the Texas ruling," he said. "But then the issue itself is that even this DACA regulation law, it strengthens the program, it doesn’t make it bulletproof. So there’s still a possibility that we went through all this work, and it didn’t change anything."
Patiño says he and other advocates had a lot of hope after the 2020 election, especially after DACA had narrowly survived legal challenged brought by the Trump administration.
"Many of us organized in 2020, making sure that we got the word out to people to vote because of this existential threat that we felt under the previous administration," he said. "I wanted to believe that things could be different ... but it's been over three years since the last election, and not much has changed."
Under current DACA rules, undocumented people must have been in the U.S. by 2007 to apply. That date’s the same in the new rule, despite calls from advocates like Patiño to revise it.
The 5th Circuit is expected to rule on the legality of the DACA program sometime this year. DHS says the new rule will go into effect on Oct. 31, but no new applicants can be accepted until 5th Circuit makes a ruling. Texas and other states could also mount new legal challenges.
Patiño says program recipients won’t find real safety until Congress passes a permanent solution.