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Public Benefit Eligibility of Deferred Action "Dreamers"

September 7, 2012

Residents of New York State who have been granted deferred action under the Obama Administration’s newly established “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program will be eligible for all New York State public benefits, provided they meet the benefit program’s non-immigrant related eligibility requirements.  In fact, they will be eligible to apply for New York’s public health insurance programs as soon as they can provide evidence that their request for deferred action has been filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  They will not be eligible for federal public benefits.

What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?

The DACA program is the Obama Administration’s response to the decade long failure of Congress to pass the “Dream Act,” which would have provided a path to permanent resident status for non-citizens who are not lawfully here and came to the country as children.

Under the program, young people who either entered the country without inspection or whose lawful status expired as of June 15, 2012 are eligible to apply for deferred action if they meet all of the following requirements:

•    entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday;
•    were under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012;
•    have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 up to the present time;
•    were physically present on June 15, 2012 and at the time of making the request for deferred action;
•    they are currently in school or have a H.S. diploma or GED or were honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or the army, and
•    have not been convicted of a felony, “significant misdemeanor, 3 or more other misdemeanors and do not pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

Anyone who has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime in the past, even a minor one, should speak with an immigration attorney before requesting deferred action because a criminal history may put the individual at risk of being placed in proceedings.

What public benefits are non-citizens with deferred action eligible for in New York?

Non-citizens granted deferred action are considered “permanently residing under color of law” (PRUCOL) and are eligible for all state funded benefits, including Medicaid, Family Health Plus, the Family Planning Program and for cash assistance (welfare) through the Safety Net program.

Once an individual can provide proof that a request for deferred action has been filed, (s)he is eligible to apply for New York’s medical health insurance benefits even before a decision is made by USCIS.  To be eligible for cash assistance, however, the person must wait until USCIS actually approves the request for deferred action.  It should be kept in mind, though, that the receipt of cash assistance, unlike medical assistance, can raise public charge concerns if the individual at some later date becomes eligible to apply for permanent resident status.

Non-citizens with deferred action are not eligible for any federal public benefit, including federal financial aid, food stamps, housing subsidies,  and the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan Program.  They will not be eligible to purchase health insurance through the federal Healthcare Exchange when that becomes operational in 2014. 


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