It is past time to clear up an oft-repeated misconception about President Obama’s deportation deferral program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): it is simply not true that individuals must be under 31 to be eligible for DACA. Any individual born after June 15, 1981 is within—and shall remain within—DACA’s age requirements. Only individuals who were 31 years old or older on June 15, 2012 are ineligible for DACA. The age requirements apply to initial applications as well as renewals, and one of the only things we know about renewals is that no one will age out. As a result, there currently are individuals in their early thirties who are eligible for DACA, and assuming the program continues on, over time, greater numbers of DACA recipients will be over 31. Yet, some news articles and even flyers for legal clinics mistakenly assert that people under 30 or 31 don’t qualify—this gets the age ceiling wrong and also implies that individuals can age out of eligibility.The Immigration Policy Center estimates that there are 1.8 million individuals who may be or may become eligible for DACA. That figure encompasses individuals who are immediately eligible for the program as well as individuals who are too young (absent certain prior contact with immigration officials, an individual must be 15 to apply) and individuals who would need to enroll in a qualifying adult education program in order to qualify. So far, about 570,000 people have requested DACA. There’s still work to be done.
Inaccurate information about the program—especially the age ceiling—is particularly troubling because the individuals who are actually applying for DACA tend to be on the lower end of the age range. In August, the Brookings Institution released a report based on FOIA-obtained data for applications filed through March of this year. The report revealed that 36 percent of applicants were between the ages of 15-18, 40 percent were between the ages of 19-23, and just 24 percent were 24 and over. The Center for American Progress (CAP) framed the data this way: the average age of all DACA applicants is 20 years old. This is true even though the pool of eligible applicants is pretty evenly divided across the age spectrum. Incidentally, the CAP report found that older applicants are substantially more likely to receive denials than younger ones.
The confusion regarding older DACA candidates is understandable. DACA and the DREAM Act often are conflated, even though they are not the same. And the DREAM Act is so closely tied up in the public imagination with classrooms, caps and gowns and youth. Consequently, people like the 28 year old New Yorker discussed in this NPR segment arrive at the mistaken conclusion that DACA is not for them because they don’t think of themselves as DREAMers. This is particularly tragic because the 28 year old with a family to support probably needs DACA and its attendant benefits even more urgently than does the high school junior.
For this humanitarian program’s arms to embrace as many people as possible, it is critical that accurate information about eligibility requirements be relayed at every step. When aspiring Americans pick up the newspaper, they should read that they may qualify for DACA if they were born after June 15, 1981. Radio programs should convey that high school drop outs can meet DACA’s education requirement if they enroll in a qualifying GED, ESL, literacy or career training program. And no one should report that the program will sunset. For all we know, DACA is here to stay and eligible individuals should have access to accurate information to learn if the program is right for them.
Photo Courtesy of OneAmerica.