Now the November elections could be key to what happens next. If Democrats gain seats in the House and retain control of the Senate and the presidency, the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform – which lawmakers attempted but failed to accomplish in the mid-2000s – are much greater. But if Republicans retain the House or if Mitt Romney becomes president, "it's hard to say where this will come out," says Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University in Washington.
"This is one of those issues, like the 'fiscal cliff,' where everything turns on the election," he says.
About 1.26 million people are immediately eligible for DACA, and another half million could qualify in the future, according to the Migration Policy Institute. That's just a fraction of the estimated 11.5 million people living in the US illegally, but the program's ripple effects could be much wider.
To be eligible for DACA, a person must have been under age 31 on June 15, show that they came to the US before turning 16, have continually resided here for the past five years, meet educational or military-service requirements, and not pose a threat to public safety or national security.
The acceptance of applications through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) started Aug. 15, two months after the policy announcement. It's been a steep learning curve for potential applicants and the nonprofits, employers, and educational institutions that can help them document their eligibility.