Deferred Action Program Moves Forward

The Obama administration announced on June 15 that it would suspend the deportations of young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The new policy, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, eventually may help up to an estimated 1.7 million young immigrants.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting requests for deferred action on August 15. For people currently in immigration detention, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will manage requests for deferred action.

Immigrant communities across the country greeted the program with great enthusiasm. Tens of thousands of people have attended information sessions, and community organizations nationwide report continuing interest in their workshops on how to request deferred action.

In the month since the Obama administration started the program, more than 82,000 young immigrants have applied for the temporary reprieve. News reports about the first grants of deferred action will surely encourage many more eligible immigrants to apply so they can soon put their diplomas to work. The initial response has been strong despite an arduous process. When considering the application process for this common-sense policy, several factors are important:

Young people who may be eligible are gathering their information first.

Young immigrants who might be eligible for the program came out in droves on the first day applications were being accepted to receive information on the application requirements. While many did not apply immediately, they are gathering the necessary items to prove their eligibility.

Proving eligibility requires a lot of documentation.

To prove eligibility for the program, undocumented youth must document their presence. Young immigrants need to provide documents to prove (among other things):

  • their identity,
  • that they came to the U.S. before age 16,
  • that they do not currently have legal immigration status,
  • that they were present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012,
  • that they have resided here continuously since June 15, 2007, and
  • that they are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a GED certificate, or that they have been honorably discharged from the military.

For many young people who do not have the range of documents that adults may have, such as bank statements or tax records, it will take time to gather all of the necessary documents.

The application cost might be out of reach for some aspiring immigrants.

Taxpayers are not paying for this program; it is entirely funded by the application fees. For many young immigrants, the $465 fee is the upper limit of what they can afford, and families with sibling applicants may find the fee to be beyond their means. USCIS has been clear that only exceptional situations will qualify for a fee waiver. In addition, some eligible young immigrants are hiring attorneys to verify their applications, which adds to the cost.

Some are waiting to come forward.

Because there is no deadline to request deferred action under this program, some eligible young people may be waiting to see what will happen to the first applicants. Others may have concerns that, under a different presidential administration, the deferred action program might be terminated. As a result, they may be concerned about revealing themselves to the government. It may take more time for these individuals to feel comfortable applying.

Immigration application processing includes several steps and can take months.

Processing immigration applications requires several steps, and adjudicators have been reviewing completed applications only since Monday, September 10. Once applicants have gathered their documents and fee and have submitted their application, they are scheduled for an appointment to obtain their fingerprints. USCIS will use the fingerprints to check government databases for criminal or other problems that would make the applicant ineligible for deferred action. The documents submitted with the application are reviewed to see if they include the applicant’s signature and sufficiently prove the applicant meets all requirements. The request for work authorization, filed with the deferred action application, must also be processed. While it’s encouraging to see that the first cases were approved in less than a month, the administration is very clear in its public education materials that processing will take several months. As of this writing, USCIS is processing work authorization (for all types of immigration applications) on a four-to-six-month timeline.

For thousands of young immigrants, a new beginning is near. We hope that many more deserving youth will be inspired by the first deferred action approvals and will apply as part of this sound policy that recognizes their hard work and commitment to the country they call home.

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