The Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been operative since August 15. The conflicting but mostly positive reports show tens of thousands of applicants for the two-year reprieve for undocumented immigrants who meet the requirements of having come to this country as children, and completed some level of college or served in the military.
However, I heard the other day on the radio that only 29 applicants have actually received the two-year deferred action status so far. The New York Times follows up on this today.
Mr. Mora is one of the first immigrants nationwide to receive approval for a two-year deferral of deportation under the program, which President Obama announced in June. As of Thursday the agency, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, had received more than 100,000 applications, officials said, with more than 63,000 in the last stages of review. But so far the agency has confirmed only 29 approvals [...]
By independent estimates, some 1.2 million immigrants are immediately eligible for the program. Some have struggled to compile evidence of lives lived in shadows during the last five years and to raise the $465 fee. But applications have also been slowed by bottlenecks that arose due to a crush of demand.
In Los Angeles, schools were deluged with requests for transcripts, creating a logjam that coincided with the frenetic opening days of the new academic year. Lydia L. Ramos, a top official of the Los Angeles Unified School District who was assigned to handle the crisis, said the district calculated that as many as 200,000 current or former students could be eligible for deferrals.
I’m not ready to freak out just yet. The program has been live for around 45 days, and the federal bureaucracy for a new program moves with all the initial alacrity of the proverbial tortoise in the race against the hare. Let’s see if those 63,000 applications “in the last stages of review” get rapid approvals. So far, I’d definitely say the program has underperformed, but it’s probably too early for a full assessment.
The bigger concern is the hurdles put in front of potential applicants. Some fear coming out of the shadows with a Presidential election on. If Mitt Romney won’t continue the program, why bother handing over $465 and tracking down all the needed records and documents? If Barack Obama wins, maybe there will be a spike after November. But what if the problem is more institutional? What if $465 really is too big a hurdle? What if the records don’t fill in all the gaps in the records of an undocumented immigrant in the shadows? What if someone cannot meet the requirement that they have been in the country consistently for the last five years, because they lived with their families and don’t have things like medical records that would establish a pattern of residency? And what if immigrants aren’t applying because they fear what it would mean for their families, who aren’t eligible for the same deferred action status? That’s perhaps the biggest outstanding question of all.
I think the grade for DACA is “incomplete” at the moment.