The Conversation

The Obama Administration is Sidestepping DACA's Education Requirements

When the Obama administration rolled out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012 one of the guidelines required applicants to either be working toward or already have a high school diploma. Even as the President mulls an expansion of DACA to millions more people, his administration is already quietly downplaying the education requirement.

The purpose of DACA was to grant 2 years of deferred status to a group of people, mostly from Mexico, who were brought to the U.S. as children. Deferred status is not permanent legal status but it does grant the right to work and insure deportation won't happen during the 2 years at which time the status must be renewed.

When the President announced DACA he was eager to put forward an image of studious young people eager to be part of the American system. "These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag," the President said.

Completing an education, either graduating high school or getting a GED, wasn't just rhetoric, at least not then. DHS created seven guidelines for applicants. The first five deal with eligible age and continuous residency. Guideline six reads, "Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States."

The details of this guideline are spelled out in a FAQ on the DHS website. The FAQ states, "you must be enrolled in school on the date you submit a request for consideration of deferred action under this process." That's for people young enough to still be in school. For those who have already graduated the FAQ offers a list of documents which can be submitted to prove one has graduated or completed a GED.

But a funny thing happened between 2012 when the guidelines were set up and 2014 when those approved came up for renewal. Jon Feere at the Center for Immigration Studies noticed that the renewal guidelines have been winnowed down to just 3 points. Two have to do with residency and the third is about convictions for misdemeanors (Each "dreamer" is allowed up to three). Conspicuously absent from the renewal process is any mention of education. In fact, as Feere points out the National Immigration Law Center has its own FAQ which makes clear that the education requirement can now be skipped over:

What if I am no longer in school. Can I still apply to renew my DACA, since the application form does not ask DACA renewal applicants for that information?

Yes. Neither the DACA application form nor the instructions ask renewal applicants for information about continued school enrollment or graduation.

[...]

Do I have to submit updated information and evidence about how I meet the educational guideline?

No. You do not need to include evidence or information related to the educational requirement with your renewal application. Note, though, that USCIS may ask you for additional documents, including school records, that show how you meet the DACA guidelines.

It's worth noting that when Feere wrote his piece in June quoting the same NILC's FAQ the first question had a slightly different wording. Back then it read, [emphasis added] "What if I no longer meet the DACA guidelines (for example, I dropped out of high school with no intent to get a GED or state equivalent certification). Can I still apply and not disclose that information, since the renewal application does not ask for it?" Apparently someone at NILC decided that question needed a rewrite.

The administration's decision to overlook school status in DACA renewals could be significant for thousands of people. This fact sheet shows that a total of 514,800 individuals were approved for DACA. Of those more than half (260,800) were under the age of nineteen. That means a significant percentage of those approved were in high school when they applied or perhaps had dropped out but were working toward a GED.

In theory, Citizenship and Immigration Services should be verifying that all of those people who were in school when they applied actually graduated or actually passed the GED. But like DACA itself, the decision to ignore the graduation status of DACA renewals is presumably a matter of administrative discretion. So despite the clear intent of the original DACA guidelines the Obama administration can simply chose not to ask.

What this example demonstrates is that any rules or guidelines put forward by the Obama administration can just as easily be ignored. The President set up 7 guidelines for DACA and two years later his administration seems to have quietly dropped one of them. The same flexibility could no doubt apply to his expansion of DACA after the election.


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