How has lives of approved DREAMers changed after DACA?

Jenny wrote to ask, "From the DREAMers you have helped so far, have you found out how they are doing after being approved?  Have they seen any improvement in the lives?  Are there lives somewhat different?  Are they able to work like any other legal individual?

Yes, from dozens of people I have helped and through my research online, there are now tens of thousands of DACA approved immigrants, but what they are doing now is all over the place.  Here are some of the things I have become aware of:

  1. How your life turns out to be depends on the state in which you live, because apart from the DACA approval, EAD card, and Social Security card (which are Federal immigration benefits), everything else varies by state.  While some states have been more generous with issuing driver's licenses, identity documents, in-state tuition, etc. other states like Arizona have refused to do so or are still debating it.  In other words, may DREAMers now not only have EAD cards and SSN, they can also drive without fear, and generally engage in other activities like banking without much problem.
  2. I have been told that getting a valid for employment SS# is a mixed blessing for many.  While some have simply left their previous jobs where they were working illegally by using an invalid SS# or simply without one and getting paid under the table, others are stuck.  They cannot legally change their SSN at work but in this tough economy cannot find other jobs.  So they continue with their "illegal" lives despite having work authorization (which, by the way, is another legal mess that they maybe forced to deal with at some point) and are waiting for a new job where they can start fresh.
  3. Some employers have been more accommodating and while they maybe breaking the law, they have allowed the approved DREAMers to change their employee information.
  4. There are some isolated incidents of people whose Social Security numbers and name either did not show up or did not match in background searches by employers but this is common for people who have just been issued new numbers because it takes some time for the information to propagate through all the private systems.  These can generally be resolved by just waiting for some time.
  5. While most approved candidates have had no difficulty finding work with their papers, it is not surprising that some companies are reluctant to invest in employees whose legal status is a bit shaky (in the sense that they may not be around if they are unable to renew their permits or Congress does not act before President Obama leaves office) and that is why many Fortune 500 may simply pick someone over whom they have greater control as far as immigration status as concerned (that is why anyone they may have to sponsor for an H visa is preferable than over an undocumented immigrant).
  6. Apparently, many illegal immigrants are scared of traveling by air even for domestic trips (there is some misinformation that illegal immigrants are not allowed to travel by air; the reality is that in order to board a plan for a domestic flight in the United States you simply need to carry valid identification, like a passport from any country, and your legal status in the United States is not relevant and no one is authorized to question your legal status during security check) but after being approved for DACA, DREAMers are traveling by air.
  7. While some DREAMers have been considering getting advanced parole for overseas travel, most of them are avoiding international travel because re-entry into the United States is not guaranteed.

Implications of ACHIEVE Act on DREAMers

As I have been saying all along DREAMers should definitely get DACA approval first.  It is the only safe path for them to get some sort of lawful presence in the United Status and prevents them from being deported because if they are deported they can never take advantage of whatever amnesty Congress passes.  Unless the researchers got the estimate of eligible undocumented immigrants very wrong, it is clear that a lot of DREAMers have not yet filed their paperwork.  I hope it is not because DREAMers are planning to apply directly for DREAM Act.

Two Republican senators in an attempt to hijack the Obama Comprehensive Immigration Reform process have introduced a watered down version of the DREAM Act and are calling it the ACHIEVE Act.  While there are several differences between the two, the biggest one is that there is no path to citizenship.  In other words, people who take advantage of the three types of visas (W1, W2, and W3) will be able to live permanently in the United States if they keep meeting certain conditions but would not be able to file for naturalization.  This sort of status is common in many countries like France or Japan where even immigrants who spend their lifetime or even if they are born there can only hope for permanent residence and not citizenship.

So is the DREAM Act dead?

At this point, it is not clear what will happen to it, but experts agree that there are simply not enough votes to pass it in its current form.  That is why ACHIEVE Act may very well become the starting point for legalization of illegal immigrants who entered the country when they were minors.  I have been reading that some advocates for DREAMers are fiercely opposing ACHIEVE Act but I would caution the DREAMers not to fall in their trap of false hopes.  The immigrant advocacy groups have their own agenda and they would rather be in business forever than have this issue go away making them lose their jobs from all the donations that they receive.

I think what DREAMers have to realize is that they do not want to end up in a situation that ACHIEVE Act is also killed because DREAM Act is not revived.  In the end, DREAMers get nothing.  It is much better to get some kind of legal status than to get nothing in the hope that a longer fight will make it eventually happen.  Politics is unpredictable and in the 2014 mid-term elections, it could very well be that Democrats lose their majority in Senate too.  It is very easy to kill legislation in Congress.

I have also noticed that many DREAMer groups are literally demanding citizenship and refusing to compromise.  That only turns off Americans because there is not a lot of sympathy for lawbreakers in general.  A long and nasty fight with an uncompromising attitude could even turn public opinion against illegal immigrants.  That is why DREAMers need to emphasize upon their leaders to tone down the rhetoric and stop being so belligerent.

Social Security numbers can never be changed

Almost.  Except for very small number of extremely rare instances (identity theft, violence against women, etc.) in which the Social Security Administration will issue a new number to an individual (the process is very convoluted and requires a lot of paperwork and coordination with the SSA).  In any case, even after that to straighten out everything with the IRS, credit rating agencies, and anyone else interested in your SSN is frustrating and problematic.

The reason I point this out is that I have been receiving emails from DACA approved DREAMers who have valid SS# now arguing that one can change a Social Security number whenever they want, or that one is allowed to do so ten times in one's life, or that all one needs to do is to change the IRS W4 form.

None of this is true.  If you are a DREAMer who worked illegally with a fake SSN or you stole someone's identity and now have a valid for employment SS#, legally speaking you simply cannot change your number anywhere.  Those immigrants who had an ITIN but used it to work illegally maybe able to switch it to a valid SSN (that too may come to bite you later because it will confirm and create a paper trail of working without authorization) but there is no provision or procedure to simply change your SSN.

Having said that, we are all aware that there are employers who knowingly employ unauthorized immigrants and either they are kept off the books or they mess with their records and what they tell the IRS and SSA.  Maybe they can accommodate your request to change your Social Security number by, yet again, manipulating their records (basically they will fire you with your old false SSN and then hire you with your new valid SSN), but that would be breaking US law and they maybe subject to prosecution.

Finally, the only hope that DREAMers in this situation have is to start a clean life after they are approved by USCIS and issued a new valid for work SSN by SSA.  Doing anything else will make your case even murkier and can put you in trouble later on.

DACA applications less than expected

When President Barack Obama first announced the DACA program, immigrant groups had estimated that there were more than one million (1.7 million is the number that was thrown around a lot) DREAMers who would apply for DACA.  Now I understand that some of them were waiting for the outcome of the 2012 presidential elections wondering if Mitt Romney would get elected and shut down the childhood deferral program but now that President Obama has been reelected guaranteeing the continuation of the program at least till January 2017, still during the three month period ending November 15, 2012, just 300,000 applicants have done their paperwork.  Could it be that these immigrants are waiting for the DREAM Act to be enacted? Or could it be that there are not as many DREAMers and the estimate was wrong?

Granted that some DREAMers may not be eligible because they lack the documents to submit or engaged in criminal activities or do not have the funds to pay the application fee, if you are waiting for Congress to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform, then, you are taking a huge risk.  There is probably a lot more momentum than ever before but passing anything in Washington DC these days is a nightmare with GOP still controlling the House and Senator John McCain acting so cranky (without his support, the law cannot be passed) the process could continue for some time.  In the meantime, without a DACA approval, not only are you subject to deportation, you are also accruing unlawful status in the country.  So please, if you are eligible and can borrow the money to pay for the application, try to take advantage of this program, because applying has pluses, and no negatives.  It is also important to note that just 3% of the applications have been rejected.

Apply for DACA or wait for DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform

After the reelection of President Barack Obama and his promise to push through DREAM Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform, several people have written to ask if they should still apply for DACA or just go through the process only once by taking advantage of DREAM Act or CIR, whichever works for them.  Like anything else in immigration matters, each situation is different and you need to make up on your own mind depending on your situation, but here are a few thoughts to consider:


  1. DACA does not legalize your status but does give you immediate relief from deportation along with a permit to work for two years, and if you behave during this time, you will be able to renew it.  You are still an illegal immigrant in the United States and do not have the privileges and rights that legal immigrants have.
  2. Chances are also high that as an illegal immigrant you are also engaged in other unlawful activities like working without authorization and/or using a fake Social Security number or stealing someone's identity.  In addition, you are accruing unlawful status.
  3. DREAM Act and/or CIR are merely political speech at this point.  Granted that President Obama and Democrats are committed to them, but the House of Representatives is still controlled by GOP and Democrats do not have filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.  While Republicans have shown some inclination to push immigration relief to undocumented immigrants, the degree to which Congress is dysfunctional and gridlock in Washington is widespread, that until the laws are signed by the President, nothing can be taken for granted.  A crazy groups of Tea Party members of Congress or just one Republican senator can jeopardize passage of any bill.
  4. DACA is a very liberal program in the sense that the paperwork is simple and any gray areas in your background, like working without papers, are being ignored at this time.  Taking advantage of this program allows you some time to plan for your future.
  5. While no one really knows what the final form of DREAM Act will be like and how CIR will work, but it would not be surprising that some requirements of the law may make you ineligible.  In that case, having a DACA approval, you will have about two years to transition to a new life in your native country (it is clear that if DREAM Act and/or CIR are made into law, it will become even more difficult for illegal immigrants to live and work in the US and they will have no choice but to leave the country).  Most analysts expect that after the laws are put in place, DACA will be discontinued (but most likely the approvals will be honored till their date of expiration).

Implications of Obama reelection on DREAMers

Looks as if DREAMers will not suffer at the hands of Republican Mitt Romney, illegal immigrants can expect Barack Obama to fight for them during his second term, as he has promised.  While the actual elements of the immigration reform will be known only after legislation is introduced in Congress, and hopefully approved, here are a few important things to know:
  1. DACA program will continue at least till January 2017.  This provides a lot of clarity to DREAMers.  So if you were holding off on applying for a work permit, you should do so now without fear.  Even if nothing else happens, if approved, you will not need to live in fear of deportation, and to support yourself and your family, you will have authorization to work.
  2. President Obama has promised DREAM Act and/or immigration reform.  Some exit polls show rising support for legalizing those in the country illegally.  Having said that, the House of Representatives is still controlled by GOP and supporters of Tea Party are still very strong.  It is expected that they will resist any such reform, though, I expect that Obama will fight hard, and if he is unsuccessful, he will campaign on this issue in 2014 mid-term elections so that we can get a Democratic majority in the House as well.
  3. If this does not turn out the way I envision it, my advice to DREAMers will be to use the time till January 2017 productively.  Get a good education; if you are of working age, then get solid work experience; save as much money as possible; and finally stay out of trouble.  At that point, you can go back to your native country and live your life there.  Education and work experience from the United States will definitely help you pursue your dreams; after all, you do not want to live your whole life as an illegal immigrant in the United States.  Doing so will be such a waste of your education and work experience.

Can I transfer my taxes from fake to real SSN?

I have already given tips on transitioning from a fake to valid Social Security number, and the process is much easier for those of you transitioning from an ITIN to a real SSN.  It is important to remind all illegal immigrants that if they have used a SSN not assigned to them by the SSA and even if they get approved for DACA they can still get prosecuted later on.

Natalia has asked a related question.  She writes, "I have been granted a working permit and have a new Social Security number, but I have been working with a fake SS#.  Can the IRS transfer my tax records from the fake number to the new number?"

Don't even think about it.  If you do not already know this, using a fake SSN is a very serious crime and if it is ever revealed that you stole someone's identity not only will your immigration benefits denied, you could even go to jail and/or deported.

So if you have a new SSN, assume that you never even used a fake SSN.  This is your opportunity to start over: get a new job with your real SSN and let the past be erased from your life.  Make sure that you use only your real SSN from now and NEVER use your fake SSN any more.  Make absolutely sure that you file your taxes regularly with your new SSN.  Whatever things you had associated with your old SSN, well, you will have to just close them or walk away from them.  Whatever taxes you paid or contributions you made to Social Security or Medicare are gone forever.

It does not mean that you are off the hook forever.  In all situations in dealing with USCIS in the future, you will still have to admit that you used a fake number at some point and face the consequences, but you will be in a much better spot if you will have a cleaner record at least after getting a real SS#.