What Is Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA)?

Updated on January 7, 2024

At a Glance

  • DAPA is an immigration relief program for certain undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident children.
  • Announced in 2014 via a presidential executive order, it aimed to protect around 4 million family members from deportation.
  • Legal challenges and a split vote in the Supreme Court prevented its implementation.
  • The Biden administration supports DAPA and aims to incorporate it into legislation through the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, currently under consideration in Congress.

In the past decade, America’s immigration laws have changed quite significantly. Political developments and changes in presidential administrations have led to vital adjustments in immigration-related laws and policies. Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) has been a fairly controversial executive order, with great opposition from certain state, political, and civil society groups. Currently, the policy remains stuck in the United States Supreme Court.

Read on to know more about DAPA and the current status of the program.

What Is DAPA?

Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA as it is more commonly known, is an immigration relief program for certain undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. since 2010 and have children who are U.S. citizens by birth or are lawful permanent residents.

This program was enacted in the Obama administration under intense scrutiny and controversy from different opposing parties. Announced in November 2014, the program was introduced via a presidential executive order and was never passed by the U.S. Congress. The DAPA program was never passed into legislation due to several alleged legal and constitutional violations. Many states filed lawsuits arguing against the program.

In February 2015, a temporary injunction was passed to block the program. A split vote in the Supreme Court further stalled the program’s progress into becoming actual legislation.

DAPA is a sister program to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DAPA was quite ambitious in its vision; the program was much bigger than the DACA program, in that it covered and protected the parents of children who are U.S. citizens by birth or who held green cards from deportation.

The program was essentially designed to protect families of approximately 4 million family members of U.S. citizens and green card holders. It is important to note that deferred action is not to be confused with legal residency. The program comes with a 3-year renewable work permit and exemptions from deportation.

This would allow parents of U.S. citizens or green card holders to apply for lawful permanent residency, be productive members of society, and emerge from their undocumented immigrant status. However, the law, as it stands, is still a presidential executive order that remains stuck in the Supreme Court.

Who Is Eligible for DAPA?

If the DAPA program were implemented as intended, the following would be the eligibility criteria for applicants:

  • Has lived in the United States of America since January 1st, 2010, and hasn’t left the country.
  • Shouldn’t have been a lawful immigrant at the time of the announcement of DAPA (November 20, 2014).
  • Needs to have been physically present in the United States of America on November 20, 2014, the day the program was announced.
  • Should have a child who is a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen by birth as of November 20, 2014.
  • Should have a relatively clean criminal record, no high-level misdemeanors or felonies
  • Not a threat to national security or be an enforcement priority for removal.

Keeping the criteria in mind, the policy envisaged that approximately 3.6 million undocumented immigrants would benefit from the DAPA program. However, the program never saw the light of day.

DAPA Under the Trump Administration

Under the Trump administration, DAPA was rescinded. The order was given on June 15, 2017, six months into the Trump administration. At this point, several states were already in contention with the federal government over the DAPA program.

States like Texas and others sued the federal government to stop the rollout of the program—26 states challenged the DAPA program in federal court. Interestingly, of the 3.6 million undocumented immigrants eligible under the DAPA program, 2.2 million of those aliens resided in states that chose not to join the lawsuit. The lawsuit led to an injunction by the Supreme Court in 2016 and a split vote of 4-4 over the matter. It has since then been stuck in litigation.

It must be added that the Trump administration unsuccessfully tried to stall the DACA and Dreamers program, which protect child immigrants from deportation and could provide some of those children a path to U.S. naturalization.

DAPA’s Future Under Biden

The Biden administration has promised to bring the DAPA program into legislation; however, this will be a long and drawn-out legal process. Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden administration has shown full support for the program.

The Biden administration has proposed the new U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. This act proposes reforms to the immigration policy that would entail a complete overhaul of the current United States immigration system. In terms of legal technicalities, the new U.S. citizenship act will have the following features:

  • Provide asylum eligibility for those escaping domestic violence and political persecution in their home country.
  • Increase the number of asylum officers and immigration judges to help with larger caseloads.
  • Put an end to for-profit detention centers that are currently used to house undocumented immigrants in less-than-ideal conditions.
  • Improve border screening and invest in research that traces the root cause of migration and persecution in Central America.

The Biden administration sees this new bill as a way to preserve American values and overhaul the immigration system to give hard-working people a chance to enter and thrive in American society.

Overall, this bill prioritizes families, seeks to address mass migration from Central America, and defines the United States as a country that is open to refugees and asylum seekers fleeing from persecution and terror. The futures of DAPA and DACA seem alive under the current administration that has created a hopeful environment for some undocumented immigrants who have been the backbone of the American economy.

Currently, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate but has not yet been passed by either one.

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DAPA is a crucial program that has the potential to protect more than 4 million family members of U.S. citizens and green card holders. The immigration process is already a stressful and taxing exercise for most immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. With the DAPA program, millions of undocumented immigrants can breathe a little easier knowing they will not be deported.

Furthermore, studies show that the DAPA program has significant ramifications on the labor market for undocumented immigrants and those eligible for the DAPA program. This 2016 study suggests that the DAPA program has the potential to transfer 250,000 undocumented immigrants into gainful employment.

If you are someone who is looking to apply for the DAPA program, we suggest you consult an immigration lawyer who is up to date on the current details of the legislation.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.