Sunday, October 14, 2012


On August 15, 2012, USCIS (the immigration services branch of DHS) officially began processing requests for deferred removal action under the Obama administration's most recent--and, so far, most significant--prosecutorial discretion and/or humanitarian immigration relief initiative: DACA. (On a minor note: while the administration has convincingly defended the legality of the program on the basis of the principle of prosecutorial discretion, it is interesting to point out that the USCIS website currently categorizes it under the humanitarian label--which normally applies to cases such as asylum, Temporary Protected Status, humanitarian parole, etc.).

Under the new policy, individuals currently in the United States may obtain every two-year a temporary work permit and (basically) a temporary promise from the federal government that they will not be placed in removal proceedings for being present in the country without legal status, if: they arrived before turning 16; they have "continuously resided" in the country since June 15, 2007; they were under 31 and were physically present in the country illegally on June 15, 2012; they have finished high school, have gotten a GED or have been honorably discharged from the military; and they have no significant criminal record and do not threaten national security or public safety. (For details, see here.)

Between 1.2 and 1.7 million individuals (about 70% of whom are from Mexico, and 740,000 of whom may have been employed illegally) are expected to meet these criteria--primarily in California, Texas, Florida and New York/New Jersey. (With reference to the DREAM Act proposal, let's call them "quasi-DREAMers.")

According to the New York Times, as of September, USCIS wouldn't "say how many people had applied, but rough estimates put it at about 150,000 [...], with a fraction having won deferrals." And, as of September 28, that "fraction" stood at only 29 agency-confirmed approvals (for the total number of requests).

But perhaps more interesting than this slow rate of approvals is the fact that the initial volume of requests was lower than expected--part of the reason for which probably has to do with the "continuous residence" requirement (mentioned above), as it places an especially difficult burden on quasi-DREAMers who had to live below the radar and on behalf of whom past employers understandably hesitate to submit self-prejudicial evidence.

The other part of the explanation seemingly has to do with the immigrant community's distrust of the U.S. government, especially in anticipation of a possible Romney administration, and in spite of USCIS' promise not to refer even denied cases--with exceptions--to ICE (the immigration enforcement branch of DHS).

(Some have also pointed out that the $465 program application fee might be too high for some applicants; however, USCIS has issued fee exemption guidelines.)

Arguably, the quasi-DREAMers' caution with the program somewhat undercuts its critics' argument that it provides "backdoor amnesty." Perhaps, even controlling for electoral uncertainty, the intended beneficiaries simply realize that they are being asked to trade away their and their families' lack of exposure (in other words: they are being asked to increase their future vulnerability) in exchange for only limited short-term benefits (i.e., no long-term guarantees)--as confirmed by the Obama administration's subsequent refusal to cover them under the Affordable Healthcare Act.

That said, perhaps the critics realize for their part an even more important point, which is that undoing DACA without upgrading the status of quasi-DREAMers through legislative immigration reform is likely to become more and more unpopular under any administration over time. This is the case not just because DACA's beneficiaries will likely resist losing their benefits even more strongly than they demanded them in the first place, or will likely acquire more influence (simply by virtue of becoming more integrated in mainstream society). It is also the case because the American public will likely become less and less inclined to strip those benefits in the first place. In this sense, then, DACA might represent, not so much a commitment to amnesty for quasi-Dreamers but rather, an incentive for the political establishment to address immigration reform sooner than later.

1 comment: