Dream Activists by J Valas Images

Dream Activists

The first day of the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program saw thousands of DREAM-eligible youth line up for the chance to apply for two years of temporary legal status. This policy shift was touted heavily at the Democratic National Convention. After the initial flush, however, applications have slowed amidst a variety of issues.

During the first three weeks that the government accepted requests for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” as the program is known, nearly 40,000 individuals submitted applications, according to government officials and others familiar with the situation. The government began accepting requests on August 15 [...]

The level of activity so far is a fraction of the potential number of eligible immigrants.

As many as 1.7 million immigrants, 30 years old and younger who have lived continuously in the U.S. for five years, could benefit from the program, according to Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Why aren’t we seeing a crush of applications yet? According to the WSJ’s reporting, the outcome of the election is a stumbling block. Mitt Romney would probably roll back the program upon entering office (he said he would “replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure” in June), dampening the desire to go through the application process.

But does this mean that we can expect applications to spike after the election, in the event of an Obama victory? Not if the other named factors are seen as more critical:

The government has said application information will not be shared with immigration enforcement. But “many people aren’t applying because they fear their families could be at risk of being deported,” said Tabbata Castillo, a 26-year-old undocumented Venezuelan in Nashville who has helped run information sessions for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

Laura Lichter, an immigration attorney in Colorado, said that the application form is simple, but can pose problems in some cases. To prove recent residence in the U.S., older applicants, in particular, might need to show work rather than school records. The problem is, undocumented immigrants typically use false identification to secure jobs, which could raise red flags.

“We still don’t have answers to issues like, if you borrowed your cousin’s name and Social Security number for a job,” which means the applicant’s real name isn’t the one on the pay stub, says Ms. Lichter.

In other words, all of the sundry problems with our immigration system, and the work-arounds for these DREAM-eligible youth borne out of neglect for fixing these problems, puts serious constraints on who will benefit from the new policy. Eligible immigrants are interested in the policy in theory, but once they hear about everything that goes with it, they may demur. In addition, the $465 in application fees, added to hundreds of dollars in potential attorney’s fees for navigating the complex application, are sure to be a barrier. If you’re an undocumented immigrant who brought three children with you over the border, and all of them are now eligible for DACA relief, that can become cost-prohibitive in a hurry.

The reality is that we need a comprehensive immigration reform, and that any piecemeal plans ultimately run up against that necessity. There are probably things that the government can do to increase take-up (the fees are a problem, and maybe the rulings that immigration advocacy groups have sought will turn out favorable), but ultimately, you need to fix the whole system, not one discrete part at a time.

Photo by J Valas images