Young DACA Recipients Have Few Paths To Citizenship

Sep 7, 2017

The Rhode Island Statehouse

The end of the immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA could leave thousands of undocumented young people without federal protection from deportation. And legal experts say most of them will find it difficult to apply for citizenship.

DACA allowed you roughly 9,000 Rhode Island and Massachusetts residents to avoid deportation. It did not make them legal permanent residents.

“You can only become a citizen if you’ve already been a lawful permanent resident living legally in the United States for at least five years or at least three years if you’re married to a United States citizen,” said Deborah Gonzalez, head of the immigration clinic at Roger Williams University Law School.

Gonzalez said DACA recipients don’t have green cards, so if they want to become citizens, they need a sponsor. That could be a parent with citizenship, but you must be 21 years old or younger to be sponsored by a parent, and many DACA recipients are now ineligible.

Applicants can also obtain citizenship through a spouse, but that spouse would need to petition the U.S. government. In addition, the undocumented family member would have to return to their country of origin for a process that can take years to complete.

“The DACA person has to go back to the home country, appear before the American embassy in the home country, so the American embassy can then determine, ‘yes we agree that you should be pardoned for the amount of time that you’ve lived in the United States,’” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said a process such as that one could likely take a minimum of two years. DACA is set to expire in six months.