Up to 1.76 million could be eligible for deportation relief — here’s how
Director of USCIS Alejandro Mayorkas provided more information about the deferred deportation action initiative on Tuesday.
By EMILY DERUY
The number of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children who could be eligible for a two-year relief from deportation may be as great as 1.76 million, according to a new estimate released Tuesday.
The new number reflects the fact that 350,000 young people who do not have a high school diploma or GED may apply for deferred action as long as they re-enroll in school by the time they submit their application, the Migration Policy Institute said in a report.
Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), participated in an event hosted by the MPI on Tuesday to discuss the deferred deportation action program, which has now been given the name the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative.
He outlined many of the specifics detailed here, and repeatedly reminded people that each individual application would be examined on its own merits. He declined to elaborate on ongoing questions, like which databases would be consulted during background checks or exactly how long the application process will take, but urged people to consult his agency’s website for more information, and beginning August 15, the application itself.
The MPI has provided a better breakdown of who will be eligible, and Mayorkas did not dispute their increased figure of 1.7 million. 1.26 million are currently eligible, with the greatest number being between 18 and 21. But there are also half a million children between five and 14 who would be eligible in the future. California has the highest number of young people who are or would be eligible, with 460,000, followed by Texas, at less than half that, Florida, New York, and Illinois.
The vast majority, nearly three-quarters, are from Mexico and Central America, followed by 11 percent from the Caribbean and South America and 9 percent from Asia. Slightly more are men than women, 52 percent to 48 percent. And 58 percent are currently in the labor force.
National Immigration Law Center Executive Director Marielena Hincapié, who spoke at the event, said her organization, which helps low-income immigrants with legal matters, has heard several concerns from DREAMers, including some regarding employment.
She called for guidance for employers and businesses. Panelist Muzaffar Chishti, a lawyer and director of MPI’s office at New York University School of Law, agrees. When people apply for work permits, he said, businesses need to know that if they are providing verification or admitting that they have hired previously undocumented workers, they will not be subjected to audits or other repercussions as a result.
Hincapié said the DREAMers are worried about confidentiality, as well. Mayorkas indicated that the information provided in the application would not be used for criminal proceedings or deportation except in very limited circumstances, and he reiterated that in general, the people applying, unless they are violent criminals, security threats, repeat offender, or submit fraudulent applications, are not the focus of the agency. For more specifics, check here.
Those who have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanor offenses will not be considered for approval in the DACA program, however. Mayorkas said that domestic violence, sex abuse, unlawful use of firearms, drug distribution, and driving under the influence will all count as significant misdemeanors. Minor traffic offenses will not be considered a misdemeanor.
But DREAMers said they are still concerned about what a change in administration — meaning if presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is elected president — would do to the program.
Several of the panelists acknowledged that confidentiality is a valid concern, and Marielena Hincapié called on Romney to make clear what he would do with the program if elected.
Panelist David Martin, a current professor of international law at the University of Virginia and former legal counsel to the Department of Homeland Security, cautioned against too much regulation, however. If everything is formalized and written down, he said, there will be resistance from the Justice Department, which “jealously guards” its prosecutorial discretion powers.
Marielena Hincapié called on nongovernmental organizations and private donors to assist applicants with financial difficulties pay the necessary fee, and Mayorkas reiterated that while there will be no general fee waivers of the $465 charge to apply, exemptions will be granted under extreme circumstances.
The agency said the initiative will be entirely funded by the fees, but House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Tuesday expressing concern about funding.
“Historically, the refusal of USCIS to charge enough in application/processing fees to cover the actual cost of processing those applications resulted in an enormous backlog of legal immigration benefits applications and in very long processing wait times for legal immigrants and aspiring U.S. citizens,” they wrote. “Per USCIS request, Congress provided funds to USCIS specifically to hire personnel to reduce that backlog.”
The lawmakers also called on Napolitano to explain the rationale behind the fee.
Officials at the panel did not address doubts about the adequacy of the fee, but they did take on the concerns of immigrant-rights groups that have expressed worry about the implementation of the program.
Mayorkas said that a “brief, casual, innocent absence” from the country will not disqualify someone from acceptance into the DACA program as long as it was before August 15, 2012. However, those who are granted deferred action and want to travel must apply and pay a $360 fee to do so. USCIS will decide whether the desired travel is for valid reasons — which might include humanitarian, educational, or employment purposes — and approval may not be granted until the person’s DACA application has been approved.
He also said the agency understands that providing certain documentation, such as continued residency, may be difficult and will occasionally accept affidavits as supplements to other documents.
USCIS will be active on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, Mayorkas said, to provide as many people as possible with accurate information, but Chishti said churches and schools will also have an important role to play in disseminating information to immigrant communities.
He added that the first days of the DACA initiative will be important in establishing confidence among the immigrant community that the process is fair and confidential.
Martin said he would not expect the Romney administration, if elected, to “completely clean the decks” of the DACA program. While they might decide not to extend it, or accept applications for renewal, Martin said he thinks it will establish some “solid behavior patterns that will have more staying power.”
Event moderator Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the USCIS and a current senior fellow at MPI, said the program “has all the ingredients of being successful.”
“It’s imminently doable,” she said. “The fact that it’s open-ended is very positive and I think the additional criterium that nobody expected that people could be eligible by enrolling in school is a very positive development.”
(Photo: Emily DeRuy)