Correction: David W. Leopold's name is corrected; he is the principal for David Wolfe Leopold & Associates.
The number of approvals for deferred-action status among undocumented immigrants is approaching a quarter-million, but the submission rate for so-called DREAMers to secure the right to remain in the U.S. is slowing, according to monthly data released by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Chart of USCIS data courtesy of Migration Policy Institute
What’s behind the drop? Activists and attorneys involved in the processes point to many factors.
“The biggest reason is money,” said Kamal Essaheb with the National Immigration Law Center. “We’re dealing with young individuals who don’t have … $500 sitting around.” Fees mount in families that have more than one eligible child, he explained.
Essaheb also pointed to lack of outreach to non-urban residents who may not be aware of the program, especially those not on a college trajectory. Other applicants find themselves in a gray area regarding their eligibility, such as having no proof of being in the U.S. on June 15, the date established by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process.
Immigrants also may be holding off on applications in order to save money and see what happens in the political arena as Congress grapples with immigration reform.
David W. Leopold, an immigration attorney with Leopold & Associates, agreed that the main reason people may not have submitted their DACA papers is cost, followed by problems proving eligibility.
“What I’m not hearing is that people are being thrown into removal proceedings,” he said. “That tells me those who are rejected are rejected on technical grounds, not criminal grounds.”
Essaheb said the slowdown is also a natural part of the process. Last summer, when the program was implemented, reports of eligible youth ranged from 800,000 to 1.76 million. Elsaheb accepts the Immigration Policy Center’s estimate of about 970,000, meaning about 47 percent of eligible applicants have submitted their forms. Officially, through March 14, the U.S Customs and Immigration Services had accepted 453,589 applications, approving about 54 percent of those in the pipeline.
“USCIS has been great in clarifying certain things, especially early on in the process,” Essaheb said. “As we have more experience on the ground, new issues are coming up. The advocate community and the USCIS need to work through these issues and find solutions.”
As a means to streamline the process and help with the application process, Essaheb mentioned the recent launch of resources at WeOwnTheDream.org. And efforts are underway to analyze ZIP codes of applicants’ residences, better to pinpoint regions that may be lacking organized outreach.
About 27 percent of total applicants reside in California (128,412), followed distantly by Texas at 73,258 and New York at 25,735. Most applicants, as the chart below indicates, are of Mexican descent.
The Homeland Security Department has been implementing the Obama DACA program, which the president approved via memorandum on June 15. The first applications were accepted by Homeland Security's USCIS two months later.
Guidelines and requirements can be found here.