Obama's new program for young illegal immigrants: How is it going?
More than 82,000 young illegal immigrants have applied for a work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But the November elections could be key to what happens next.
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"This is one of those issues, like the 'fiscal cliff,' where everything turns on the election," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, for one, has posted a section on its website to help students get their records together to show their educational and residential history for the DACA application.
Thousands of people have shown up for free legal clinics in Los Angeles and Miami, and more than 70 such clinics have been organized all around the country by groups such as the Boston-area Student Immigrant Movement (SIM). This is partly in response to reports of lawyers offering to help people for exploitative fees of $1,000 or more.
At a clinic organized by SIM at North Shore Community College in Lynn, Mass., about 30 came for one-on-one legal advice on a recent Friday afternoon. "People are excited about the opportunities that this opens up, but a lot of people are really cautious," says Conrado Santos, a SIM coordinator wearing a T-shirt that declares "Education not Deportation."
One of the most common questions has been whether applicants or their family members might be targeted for deportation once the government has collected all their information. Both USCIS and advocacy groups have assured them that a DACA application would not in and of itself trigger such moves. Also, those over 18 don't have to identify parents on the application.
Despite the uncertainties, about 7 percent of those eligible applied for DACA in the first month, according to Lorella Praeli, the Washington-based policy coordinator for United We Dream, a network run by undocumented youths – compared with 3 percent who applied in the first month after Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, which granted amnesty to certain illegal immigrants.
As of Sept. 26, more than 1,600 DACA applications were ready for final review, and about 63,000 people had biometrics appointments scheduled, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official says.
Lopez has already completed her biometrics appointment, which she describes as a brief, easy process that includes answering some basic questions and having her photo and fingerprints taken.