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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Immigration Roundup: Happy Birthday, DACA

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One year has passed since U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services implemented the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, and DACA’s Aug. 15 birthday was celebrated as a success for the young, undocumented immigrants who benefited from the program. The anniversary has also been used as a rallying point for more permanent, legislative changes to the country’s immigration system.

DACA—which prevents deportation and grants work permits to young, undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, provided they meet certain criteria—was launched Aug. 15, 2012, just two months after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the Obama administration initiative.

But at the one-year mark, Napolitano has joined several voices in saying DACA is not enough, and legislation must be passed that would grant a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country.

USCIS released the latest program statistics Aug. 15, showing that more than 430,000 applications have been approved of over 552,000 applications accepted as of July 31.

But the Migration Policy Institute released research Aug. 14 showing that DACA’s education requirement—that applicants have at least a high-school diploma or its equivalent, or currently be enrolled in an educational program—could be a significant barrier to some 423,000 otherwise eligible immigrants. For example, high poverty rates and low English proficiency are prevalent among those who qualify except for the education requirement, making adult education especially difficult, not to mention affording the $465 application fee.

Audrey Singer of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program  speculated separately Aug. 15 that potentially eligible immigrants may not have applied for DACA because they do not know they qualify—or perhaps do not even know they are undocumented.

On the qualification issue, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, the Immigration Advocates Network, and the Own the Dream campaign on Aug. 14 released a free “Pocket DACA” app for smartphones and tablets designed to help potentially eligible immigrants determine whether they are, in fact, qualified. The app also contains a directory of legal services providers to help with applications.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) was among those arguing Aug. 15  that DACA--despite barriers some immigrants may face in applying--is an example of why an immigration overhaul is necessary—and how it can succeed. Gutierrez said the program has been a “good dress rehearsal” for legalizing all undocumented immigrants, and it “put a face on the immigration issue and set aside fears that legalization is unworkable or politically disastrous.”

Other immigrant advocates, such as the National Immigration Forum and National Immigration Law Center, also are calling for DACA’s expansion to a pathway to citizenship for the entire undocumented population.

After the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration overhaul bill (S. 744) in June—which contains a pathway to citizenship—House Republicans announced that they would instead pursue a piecemeal approach. But despite the House Judiciary Committee approving a series of immigration bills, none saw floor action prior to the August recess.

 In other news:

  • A third lawsuit has been filed against Infosys Technologies Ltd. accusing the IT company of abusing the visa system by hiring foreign workers, largely from India, on H-1B highly skilled guestworker visas despite the availability of qualified U.S. workers to perform the jobs, and by bringing over foreign nationals on the restrictive B-1 business visitor visas to perform the same jobs as H-1B and other workers. The proposed class action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin also claims Infosys is  illegally preferring workers of South Asian descent over qualified individuals of other national origins even in hiring not tied to temporary work visas.
  • In the latest in a series of reports illustrating the benefits to the economy of overhauling the immigration system, the White House said Aug. 13 that granting undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship would increase their earnings and therefore benefit the economy by increasing the amount of taxes they would pay, as well as their spending on goods and services. Citizenship would mean access to a wider array of jobs, better skills/job matching, and even the ability to find a job in the first place, the report said.
  • North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) vetoed a bill (H.B. 786) Aug. 15  that would have relaxed the state’s E-Verify law by exempting from the screening under the electronic employment verification system employees who work less than nine months out of the calendar year. McCrory said the measure would encourage employers to hire undocumented immigrants and therefore deprive citizens of the state of jobs. House Speaker Rep. Thom Tillis (R) is speaking with colleagues to determine whether to attempt an override, which would require a special legislative session.

 

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