The Obama administration's deferred action program, which is intended to let undocumented immigrants age 30 and under avoid deportation, is just getting started amid concerns the initiative could abruptly end if Republican nominee Mitt Romney wins the presidency.
Douglas Rivlin, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), a consistent national voice on immigration policy, acknowledges that program applications have “taken more time per applicant” than initially anticipated. “It takes a while to fill out the application and get all the documents you need,” Rivlin says.
Part of the reason is that the program has a few qualifications, such as proof that the applicant was in the country on June 15 when President Barack Obama announced deferred action via executive order. So an applicant must produce, for example, a school record or even store receipt from that date.
Also, applicants must show that they entered the U.S. prior to turning 16 years of age, demonstrate an honorable military discharge, high school diploma or equivalency, and possess a clean criminal record.
One initial concern immigrant advocates expressed was that the $465 application fee would be prohibitive to some. The Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which organized a massive Navy Pier rally and application workshop on deferred action’s August 15 start-up day, initially discussed the idea of a hardship waiver.
But Rivlin says that, “Nobody has come to us and said there is no way they can pay it.” Rivlin notes that the fee could have been higher, considering that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the program, almost entirely depends on application fees for its numerous programs to stay afloat.
The federal agency reports that it has taken 82,361 applications as of September 19, and finalized the approval process for 29 applicants thus far. State-by-state application data has not been made available.
According to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute, the program could help up to 1.4 million people, including 70,000 Illinois residents, gain a two-year deportation reprieve and also work permit.
However, a successful outreach to all or most potential applicants requires the program continuing well into next year. And that means the fate of the presidential election could play a big part in the continuation of the deferred action program.
Romney initially criticized Obama for bypassing Congress in issuing the executive decree, but said nothing of the policy itself.
Last week Romney was repeatedly pressed on Univision to answer “yes or no” on whether he would continued deferred action. Romney promised that, “I will actually reform the immigration system,” unlike Obama. And he vowed that, “We’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them.”
But the candidate never explicitly said whether or not he would end a program that is popular with Latino voters, but unpopular amongst many of his Republican colleagues.
Illinois Congressional Republicans locked in competitive races have also not publicly said much about deferred action, and calls to campaign offices today went unreturned. U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-McHenry) did compare Obama to a “tyrant” in June for not seeking Congressional approval.
Deerfield Democrat Brad Schneider, who is challenging U.S. Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth) for the state’s 10th district seat, did respond to questions with a statement supportive of deferred action. “I applaud the President’s call to stop deporting the millions of young people who were brought to this country by their parents as small children,” Schneider wrote in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, deferred action implementation continues in the Chicago area with October 6 application workshops announced today by Gutierrez and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). The workshops will be held at Richard J. Daley, Harry Truman, and Wilbur Wright city colleges as well as Roberto Clemente and Benito Jaurez high schools.