[ dah-kuh ]


  1. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: a program intended to allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors to legally remain in the country to study or work.

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Word History and Origins

Origin of DACA1

First recorded in 2010–15

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Example Sentences

Besides, if DACA were to blame for the influx, it would have happened two years earlier when the policy was enacted.

DACA reprieves are provided for a two year period, and conservative Republicans are hoping to end renewals to the program.

A companion bill slated for a vote to defund DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was shelved.


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About This Word

What does DACA mean?

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigration policy, enacted by the Obama administration in 2012, that allows undocumented people, known as Dreamers, brought to the United States as children to defer deportation and live and work in the U.S. legally.

With efforts by the Trump administration to end it being challenged in court, DACA has become a flashpoint for the immigration debate in the U.S.

On June 18, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a significant, 5-to-4 ruling against President Trump’s effort to terminate DACA in September 2017. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts found that, while a president has the authority to end DACA if they provide valid, proper reasons, the Trump administration’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The ruling protects hundreds of thousands of Dreamers from deportation for now by blocking the Trump administration’s immediate ending of the DACA program. Other implications of the ruling are that DACA is legal, but also that a president could end the program in the future, if done so in a reasoned way. Congress would still need to pass legislation to determine the permanent legal status of Dreamers.

Where does DACA come from?

During the first term of his presidency in 2008–12, President Barack Obama pushed for immigration reform to address the problems faced by children brought illegally to the United States by their parents.

These children—some 650–8700,000 young people at an average age of 25—were caught in limbo, not having chosen the fate of their illegal status. Many of them hadn’t been to their countries of origin since birth and no longer had ties to those countries (often Mexico). They considered themselves American, working, going to school, and serving in the military, but were at risk for deportation.

Moving into his second term, the Obama administration encouraged Congress to pass long-in-the-pipeline legislation that would normalize these children’s legal status—called the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act—but it failed, largely over disagreements about proposals about paths to citizenship for them.

To provide some temporary protection to this group of immigrants, Obama signed an executive order on June 15, 2012 to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. This program gave applicants two years of protection from deportation and made them eligible to work. DACA recipients, known as Dreamers in reference to the failed DREAM Act, have to apply to renew their eligibility every two years at a cost of nearly $500.

In September 2017, President Donald Trump moved to phase out DACA by March 2018, again via executive order. This set off a series of legal challenges, even involving the Supreme Court, with federal district judges ordering a stay on the order and the Trump administration to process applications. As of July 2018, the Trump administration is processing renewals but the fate of new applications and court decisions remain unclear. Limbo once again for the Dreamers.

DACA protects a very small proportion of undocumented immigrants—about 6% of the overall undocumented population. But, it has become symbolic of the larger heated debate around immigration in the United States.

President Trump and anti-immigration activists have used DACA as an emblem of all problems with immigration policy in the U.S. while pro-immigration activists point to the professional, academic, and military accomplishments of DACA recipients as patriotic signs of their contributions to the U.S. economy and society.

The complexities of DACA have compelled President Trump to use the program to get Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, with Trump sometimes saying he will concede DACA protections for border wall funding. As with Obama before him, efforts have so far been fruitless.

As noted above, in June 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA on the grounds that its reasons for doing so were not valid and adequate.

How is DACA used in real life?

DACA is most often used as a noun for the policy itself and its protections, but it’s also used attributively to describe program participants—either positively or negatively.


Pro-immigration activists also use DACA to support their cause, sparking the hashtag #DefendDACA. They may reference DACA in order to get the word out about the program in order to encourage more people to apply. The hashtag #DACA is also most often used by the pro-immigration camp to draw attention to their posts on immigration and Dreamers in particular.

DACA is very commonly discussed in states with large Latin American immigrant populations, such as California, Texas, and New York.

More examples of DACA:

“Shout out to DACA AMERICANS that are doing the most American thing of all!!! They are fighting for their ‘inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’”
—@Johnnyrodr10, July 2018

“Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices said the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to rescind DACA was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act.”

—Nina Totenberg, NPR, June 18, 2020


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

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