In 2012, President Obama successfully implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) through Executive Action. Next was the DAPA Program.

DACA allowed qualifying undocumented youth to obtain work permits and temporary stays of deportation for their presence in the United States, among other benefits (link to the Immigration Guide).

However, advocates, immigrants, and DACA recipients wondered, at that time and today, what relief would be offered to the parents of DACA youth and others who were not DACA-eligible?

With a republican controlled Congress (with majorities in the Senate and both houses of Congress for the first time since 20051), policymakers realized that achieving agreement on comprehensive immigration reform was unlikely.

Thus, other options for immediate relief efforts had to be considered in the hopes of mitigating the myriad problems undocumented immigrants living in the shadows face on a daily basis.

The DAPA Program

Toward this, Obama’s follow-up Executive Action on immigration reform was called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA). DAPA was drafted as one effort to respond to the lingering question of what relief might be offered to undocumented immigrants in the United States not qualified for DACA, including the immediate family members (many times parents) of new DACA recipients. Similar to its predecessor DACA, DAPA would provide crucial immigration benefits to qualifying applicants.

To be eligible for DAPA Program benefits, immigrants must:

  • Be the parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • Have continuously lived in the U.S. since January 1, 2010.
  • Have been present in the U.S. on November 20, 2014.
  • Be without status on November 20, 2014 (either have entered the US without papers or any lawful immigration status must have expired)
  • Have a clean criminal record, including felonies and “significant” misdemeanors

DAPA beneficiaries would receive eligibility for work authorization and protection from deportation for up to three years, with the possibility of renewal2.

Who Would Benefit from DAPA Program?

Potential DAPA recipients are deeply embedded members of society who “enjoy strong family ties, long tenure, and high employment rates in the United States3”. Most DAPA recipients speak English well, and “most of the potentially DAPA eligible are not considered an enforcement priority under current Department of Homeland Security guidelines4,” meaning they do not present any threat to society.

DAPA would prove beneficial both economically and psychologically to immigrant families: “shielding children and families from potentially substantial economic harm resulting from the deportation of the father, deferred action would alleviate the documented psychological, social, and developmental harms associated with having an unauthorized parent4”.

Many researchers have studied the potential benefits of DAPA at the national level, with findings showing that program implementation would likely lead to “reductions in poverty and other measurable gains for millions of people living in DAPA households4”.

In addition to allowing families to stay together in the United States and the many individual benefits the program would bring to its beneficiaries, research has shown that “granting individuals relief from deportation and work authorization is an investment that would go well beyond its direct beneficiaries; it would bring stability to entire households5”.

Barriers to Implementation

Social Work and Politics: How to Handle the Election CycleLike DACA, DAPA was passed as an Executive Action by President Obama, meaning this policy did not pass through Congress for approval before being signed into law.

Nearly immediately after its signing, Texas and 25 other states filed a lawsuit claiming that the program was an illegal presidential overreach of power.

A Texas judge ruled an injunction, which was later upheld in the 5th circuit court of appeals, causing the case to be elevated to the Supreme Court6.

On June 23, 2014, shortly after the death of Justice Scalia, Supreme Court justices were equally divided on their ruling of the legality of President Obama’s actions in passing the DAPA program. This means the 5th circuit injunction is upheld and the program cannot move forward at this time.

The Way Forward

With the defeat of the DAPA program in the divided Supreme Court, immigration reform for our country will now be decided by the results of the 2016 election. “Meanwhile, supporters of the president’s executive actions may try to get a different coalition of states to sue in another court to start implementing them — creating a possible split between appellate courts, in which the executive actions are ruled constitutional in parts of the US and unconstitutional in other parts7”.

The DAPA program presents a viable way to offer immigration relief to millions of undocumented immigrants who are contributing members of U.S. society, have built their lives and families in this country, and are currently living in fear of discovery and deportation. While DAPA has not been upheld, it provides an exemplary policy option upon which to build in future efforts to resolve the country’s massive immigration system failure and protect immigrant families.


Reference List:

1Myers, Gerry. Republicans control both houses of congress; Democrats the presidency: so what does the future hold? [Internet].  Washington (DC): The Huffington Post; 2015 Jan 20 [cited 2016 Aug 18].

2National Immigration Law Center. Frequently asked questions: the Obama administration’s DAPA and expanded DACA programs [Internet]. Los Angeles (CA): National Immigration Law Center; 2015 Mar 13 [cited 2016 Aug 18].

3Kerwin, J, Warren, R. Potential beneficiaries of the Obama administration’s executive actions deeply embedded in US society. Journal on Migration and Human Security. 2016;4(1):16-28.

4Capps, R, Koball, H, Bachmeier, JD, Ruiz Soto, AG, Zong, J, Gelatt, J. Deferred action for unauthorized immigrant parents: analysis of DAPA’s potential effects on families and children [Internet]. Washington (DC): Migration Policy Institute; 2016 Feb [cited 2016 Aug 18].

5Cantor, G. Who would benefit from DAPA? [Internet]. Washington (DC): American Immigration Council Immigration Impact; 2016 Mar 4 [cited 2016 Aug 18].

6The Economist. Stuck on red: a split supreme court thwarts Obama’s immigration policy [Internet]. New York (NY): The Economist; 2016 Jun 23 [cited 2016 Aug 18].

7Lind, D. A supreme court tie all but kills Obama’s plans to protect millions of immigrants [Internet]. New York (NY): VoxMedia; 2016 Jun 23 [cited 2016 Aug 18].

Understanding the DAPA Program in Social Work | Info for Social Workers
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Understanding the DAPA Program in Social Work | Info for Social Workers
Understanding the DAPA Program in Social Work. Info for Social Workers. Find out the barriers to implementation.
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