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Can applying for DACA put me in legal trouble?

Karl writes, "I am currently helping some students with their DACA applications and I am finding out that they are very afraid that applying for this might make things harder rather than easier in some ways. Can you advise?

Some individuals will simply not be eligible:  I share the concerns of your students that applying for this process is risky for some individuals, particularly those who have been working without authorization (and definitely for those who have engaged in criminal activities -- the list of what will make them ineligible is provided by the USCIS on its website).  As you might have read on my blog, a lot of these people have messy lives.  Many of them have worked using fake Social Security numbers or documents, others are working totally off the books, others have lied about their immigration status in the country, some have stolen identities, they have filed or received tax refunds with completely messed up Social Security numbers, and such.  Most of these crimes are considered to be felonies and punishable by prosecution, jail times, and deportation.

That is why unless someone meets all the requirements and has absolutely nothing illegal in their history (other than entering the country without inspection or overstaying their visas), they should meet with an excellent attorney to make sure that they will benefit from it and not get hurt.  Immigration benefits are highly complex legal matters and the whole process is cumbersome.  A small mistake at any stage can destroy everything.

Only individual case review can decide the best course of action:  I hope you realize that each case is unique and no generic advice is good enough.  These are just some of the things I have been able to research but I would suggest that you tell your students to consult a competent attorney for individual advice.  Only an attorney who can review individual situation can give specific advice.  While some of the generic advice like this may look discouraging, attorneys are able to find solutions to make it work.  So I hope this does not discourage your students but makes them aware of the risks and benefits and decide accordingly. It is fair to assume that, in general, criminals will be caught and punished but the deserving will be rewarded.