Protect DACA youth with the legal doctrine of promissory estoppel

By Olivia Deborah Lagutaris LaRosa, Sept.10, 2017

Promissory estoppel is a common law contract doctrine that may apply to DT’s tentative repeal of the “Dreamers” status.  Our young people who were brought to the US as children and thus had no say in whether they were “legal” must be protected. We can do that by fighting hard to protect their status and their rights.

How can we do that? By dipping into our legal toolbox for the proper tool.

Legal concepts are described and defined by  “elements.” Ordinarily, a contract is created by satisfying four elements:

  • Promise
  • Consideration
  • Agreement
  • Legal purpose

The elements of promissory estoppel are:

  • A promisor
  • A promisee who acted with
  • Reasonable reliance on the promise
  • Which here substitutes for consideration, even through there is no monetary consideration from promissee
  • Causes a substantial economic detriment effect to the promisee

The Presidential Order on DACA was a promise to those children who were brought from out of the country by their parents, and had no control over being brought to the USA. The Dreamers have, as they have matured, acted upon the promises of DACA to build their lives as Americans do. They graduated from high school, went to college, or learned a trade. Some have married now and are raising families in the USA.

They thus acted with reasonable reliance on the promise of DACA. They were economically harmed by the reversal and the threat of deportation.

This is a unilateral contract where no consideration was tendered by the Dreamers. But the doctrine of promissory estoppel says that their actions based on reasonable reliance are the equivalent of consideration.

Removal from the USA would cause catastrophic economic detriment to the Dreamers. They are unsuited to earning a living in other countries. If homeowners they would lose their homes and the money they put into them. They may not even speak the language of the country where they came from.

Therefore, promissory estoppel presents a real opportunity to protect our youth.

History of application of promissory estoppel relevant to DACA

This doctrine was used to defend students at a major California law school. During the school shutdowns in the early 1970s, classes were not held for a year. The school decided that the exams at the end of that year would cover an entire two years of instruction.

Many of these students were recruited by a legal education opportunity program. These programs are designed to help students who had to overcome significant obstacles to get to law school. Many were first-generation college students. This is a big handicap, believe me!

Of course, many of these students did not pass under this draconian two-year exam protocol. Using the promissory estoppel doctrine, they argued that they had been promised a chance to make it through law school and the testing method denied them that education.

Failure to graduate from law school would cause them substantial economic harm.

Therefore, because promissory estoppel is a common law doctrine, class action suits similarly might be brought in every state where DACA beneficiaries reside.

Presidential prerogative

In case you are wondering, alien residents of the USA have some rights defined by the Constitution. Furthermore, immigration laws apply “federally,” that is, in every state. The President may make policy about immigrants. GOP assertions that the executive order establishing Dreamer status are confused.

Here’s a video that explains how promissory estoppel works.

Brush up on DACA here. 5 things you should know about DACA


Deborah Lagutaris has a law degree but she does not practice law. Ms. Lagutaris holds an LL.M. Legal Master Degree in International Taxation and Wealth Management. Furthermore, she is a Licensed California Real Estate Broker. Learn more about her at One Tax

This article is not legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client privilege.

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