DACA and Religious Workers

Last Updated

June 23, 2023

What is DACA?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was originally enacted as a policy memo in 2012 during the Obama Administration. The memorandum established a new program of prosecutorial discretion with respect to some undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children. While those who successfully win approval for deferred action under this program do not have the benefit of a formal immigration status, they are permitted to live and work in the United States.

How does DACA affect religious workers?

As those who were brought to the United States as children become adults, they seek to advance their education, their careers, and their family lives. For some, this pursuit of a life of peace and fulfillment also includes a calling to a religious vocation within the Catholic Church. Many of those who qualify for DACA were brought to the United States as very young children, which means that those who enter the religious communities in the United States have often grown up alongside the Dioceses and orders that they have pledged themselves to. The deferred action granted under DACA allows these religious workers to continue to pursue their vocation and carry out the service and way of life which they have dedicated their lives to.

If DACA is taken away, how will this affect religious workers and their communities in the United States?

While there is no exact count of how many religious workers have received benefits under the DACA program, what is certain is that this number only continues to grow. With the future of the program in doubt, clergy and vowed religious protected by DACA are now faced with the threat of being separated not only from their religious communities, but the communities that they serve. There can be no doubt as to the profoundly negative consequences of such a decision on those who rely on their priests, religious sisters, and local religious workers. Perhaps even more devastating will be the blow to the religious workers themselves, who will be prevented from living out the vows that they feel they have been called to by God.

What is the most recent action on DACA?

The fate of the DACA program remains uncertain. Since its first implementation 11 years ago, it has been plagued by challenges both in the halls of Congress and in the federal courts.

In 2022, the Biden administration published a final rule which attempted to strengthen the DACA program by encoding it into federal regulation, rather than its current status as a policy memorandum. However, in October 2022, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals issued a decision in Texas v. United States, which ruled that the 2012 program was unlawful and returned the case back to the Southern District of Texas to decide whether the new final rule was allowed. The judge in the current case, Judge Andrew S. Hanen, is the same judge who initially ruled that the 2012 program was unlawful. Arguments were heard back in April, and a decision could be issued any day now.

Unfortunately, while this litigation remains pending, orders from these courts place restrictions on USCIS to accept and approve certain types of DACA filings. Currently, USCIS is only accepting renewal petitions from those who were already granted deferred removal under DACA. Even if a person who files an initial application is fully eligible, they will not be granted protection under DACA until such a time as the courts allow the program to proceed, or Congress passes a statute codifying the program into law.

Is CLINIC available to take my DACA case, as a religious worker?

Maybe! As explained above, at this time the United States government is only taking renewal applications for DACA. This means that if you or a member of your community have already been granted DACA and wish to renew that benefit, we may be available to help prepare your case. However, if you wish to file an initial application for deferred removal under the DACA program, due to the government’s restrictions we will be unable to prepare either an initial DACA application or a related I-765 EAD application at this time. Should USCIS begin accepting initial DACA applications again, this policy may change.

For more information about how CLINIC may be able to assist you or your community with a DACA filing, please reach out to your assigned RIS attorney.