The Labor & Employment Blog is a forum for practitioners and Bloomberg BNA editors to share ideas, raise issues, and network with colleagues.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
by Laura D. Francis
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.
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