Lessons Learned from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

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Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs, which allows undocumented immigrants 15-30 years old where were brought to into the United States before the age of 16, haven’t left the United States since June of 2007, and have committed no serious crimes apply to stay legally in the United States. These immigrants must also either have a GED, high school diploma, or be currently enrolled in school.

An estimated 1.7 million young people in the United States could qualify for this program. If the first 60 days after the program opened in June of 2012, almost 600,000 people applied. The enormous number of applicants who have come forward—three quarters of which have been accepted into the program—has proven it to be a sort of pretest for more widespread immigration reform promised by the House of Representatives to come in 2014.

Tom Wong, assistant professor of political sciences for University of California San Diego who is researching DACA explains, “DACA represents an important trial run for a larger legalization process.”

In the time since DACA began, hiccups in the system were overwhelmingly apparent, the most central of which was figuring out what documentation was acceptable to prove continued residency. Since employers are wary of acknowledging undocumented employees, to prove residency, applicants have been bringing forth hospital records, utility bills, and social media activity. DACA has since clarified that they accept hospital records and utility bills.

Another hiccup is long processing time, lack of resources and local organizations to deal with the large amount of applications coming in as well as the enormous amount of transcripts being requested from schools. Also, serving Asian immigrants and other immigrants who cannot speak Spanish or English needs a lot more work.

Underestimating the number of people who qualify in states like Georgia while overestimating in states like California have created infrastructure not suitable for the populace coming through the system. This has provided insight, however, into the changes that need to be made and where resources need to be allocated when broader immigration reform comes into effect. California, Illinois, Texas, and New York have the highest number of Mexican immigrants, however Georgia, North Carolina, and Indiana have higher rates of DACA applicants.

Bottlenecks in the process have caused young people who would have qualified for the program to be deported before their applications were processed and have also caused the United States’ workforce to loose valuable people. Columbian native Juan Gomez was won a scholarship to Georgetown University and joined JP Morgan Chase on a temporary work visa. He applied for DACA in January but his work visa ran out before his case was decided. Left in limbo, he left his uncertain fate in the United States and moved to Brazil to work for a top finance firm. Neither individuals or the United States is benefitting from the long turn-around.

Throughout this whole process, the Mexican government has been very cooperative, quickly providing applicants with necessary documents such as birth certificates. Moving forward in immigration policy reform, it’s important to encourage other the governments of other countries to do the same.

Source: Wides-Munoz, Laura. “Immigration Reform Gets Broader Lessons from Deferred Action,” Huffington Post. November 17th, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/immigration-reform-deferred-action_n_4295563.html

This article was written by Rebecca Little