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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): Why so Many Eligible Applicants have not Applied

file0001050549506.jpgOne of the most important changes in the immigration system in the last year has been the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented by the Obama administration. This program allows young undocumented aliens who entered the U.S. before they were 16 and are under 31 years of age to request a deferment which protects them from deportation proceedings for two years. Nationally, only about 59 percent of eligible individuals have applied to the program.

As an immigration attorney, I have been a firsthand witness to the devastation a deportation can create. Many of the young immigrants who arrived in the country as children have grown up as Americans. A deportation is more than loss of job or educational opportunities; it is an injury to their identity. That is why it is so important to take advantage of this critical program.

Applicants should be able to prove that they have continuously resided in the U.S. from 2007. This may be substantiated using rental payment receipts, employee documents or utility bills. Applicants must also prove they were in the country on June 15, 2012. They should be in school, have graduated from high school with a diploma, or possess a GED. Veterans who have served in the U.S. military or Coast Guard and been honorably discharged are also eligible. Candidates who have a felony conviction, serious misdemeanor or three misdemeanor convictions are disqualified.

Although the benefits of DACA include protection from deportation for two years and employment authorization documents that can used to acquire a driver’s license, many eligible individuals have held off on applying. For many undocumented young people the requirements may be difficult to document because they have lived without proper status for so long. In other cases, the $465 fee is too high for them to take the risk of possible rejection.

Many eligible immigrants also fear the possible consequences if they apply and are rejected. In states like Arizona, the number of applicants lags behind those nationally because of the perceived hostility of state officials toward the undocumented immigrant community. In Arizona only 53 percent of eligible individuals have applied. This may stem in part from Arizona’s unwillingness to issue driver’s licenses to those with DACA authorization.

Some immigrants may have decided to ignore the DACA program in hopes that the federal government will enact sweeping immigration reform which would provide legal status or citizenship to almost all undocumented aliens. Unfortunately, the risk of not participating in the DACA program can leave many young people open to the risk of deportation prior to enactment of any new immigration programs. Furthermore, participating in DACA may accelerate the process for gaining legal status.

Having been a practitioner of immigration law for some time, I strongly encourage young people who are eligible for DACA to participate in the program. If you or a family member would like to discuss DACA, immigration reform or other related issues, please contact my office at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a confidential consultation.