DACA Permits Are Expiring Today. Here's What That Means For Dreamers

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) holds a news conference with DREAMers from nearly 20 states outside the U.S. Capitol January 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

If you’ve been following the government fight over DACA—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—you may have come to recognize March 5 as the date that the program “expires.” While an expiration date sounds ominous, it’s not exactly accurate. Here’s what you need to know about what’s going on with undocumented immigrants:

1. What is DACA?

The DACA program was introduced by the Obama administration in 2012 and stipulates that “certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.” In other words, children of undocumented immigrants who apply for deferred action—they’re called Dreamers because the law that implemented DACA is called the DREAM Act—are guaranteed protection from deportation by the federal government. This protection lasts for two years, at which point the DACA recipient must reapply.

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2. What’s happening on March 5?

Because DACA permits are, by law, set to expire every two years, the March 5 deadline has very little to do with any individual Dreamer. What the date actually signifies is a deadline that President Trump set for Congress, back on September 5, 2017. “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA,” he tweeted then. “If they can’t, I will revisit the issue!” (By revisiting, he meant ending the program.) This has turned out to be a false promise. Congress has not legalized DACA, but a federal judge recently ruled that canceling the program was illegal because it was based on a “flawed legal premise that the agency lacked authority to implement DACA.”

3. Are undocumented immigrants currently in danger of being deported?

The short answer: no. In September, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that Dreamers whose permits expired by March 5 and did not apply to renew their DACA status by October 5 would lose their protections altogether. According to the DHS, that currently applies to about 21,000 people. However, on January 13, the Department announced that anyone whose DACA permit has expired may still reapply for a two-year extension.

4. What happens next?

No one really knows. Perhaps Donald Trump will “revisit the issue,” as he promised to do. But, given the president’s track record for unpredictability, it’s hard to say for certain.

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