The Department of Homeland Security reported 72,000 immigrants so far have applied for the deferred action program announced by President Barack Obama in early June.
DHS began accepting applications for the program by mail Aug. 15, and after careful review of each case, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began sending decisions on some cases, DHS spokesperson Peter Boogard said in an email to The Badger Herald.
The program, which can be renewed, ensures accepted applicants do not get deported for periods of two years, according to Boogard.
The applicants must be under 31-years-old and must have come to the U.S. before they were 16, Boogard said. They cannot have a criminal record and must either be enrolled in school, have graduated high school or have been in the military. The immigration status allows them to apply for work authorization and other documents like drivers licenses.
“This action is the right thing to do,” Boogard said in the email. “Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner, but they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. These young people do not represent a risk to public safety or security.”
The 72,000 applicants came in under DHS expectations, according to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Enrique Figueroa, who is also the director of the Roberto Hernandez Center, a student institution at the university.
Figueroa said he speculated potential applicants may be concerned about their information being utilized for alternative purposes. As the application asks for family information, applicants’ family members may worry about whether that information is used, he said.
“People are a little worried and apprehensive about whether [the information] would be maintained anonymously,” Figueroa said. “People also don’t know what will happen if and when we have a new president so perhaps they are going to wait after the election to see what’s going on.”
Figueroa said if presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the position, it may curb potential applicants from enlisting in the program. He added people should not reach the conclusion applicants do not like the program, as many might be waiting for groups who are providing help services with the application process.
UW communication arts professor Karma Chavez said another reason why the application numbers may not have met DHS expectations is because of a “schism” between immigrant rights groups.
“There have been significant movements among immigrant rights folks against applying for deferred action,” Chavez said.
Chavez gave the example of a recent drive in Chicago by an immigrant rights group to help applicants. Another group resided outside the location and handed out information to people in an attempt to convince them against applying for the program, she said.
She also added some groups who were originally content with the current progress in immigration rights looked closer at the rules and are now warning applicants about the program.
“Having read these documents closely, I haven’t advocated against people signing up for deferred actions, but I have not advocated for it, just because given that Obama has deported more immigrants than any president in history, I don’t know that you can trust Obama,” Chavez said.