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DACA Reviewed on Its Second Anniversary

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program just celebrated its second birthday and I think it is time to take a look back at the program. In some ways it has been a life-saver for immigrants brought here before their 16th birthdays by their parents and in some ways it has been disappointing.

At the time DACA began it was estimated that 1.3 million undocumented immigrants were immediately eligible and that roughly 70,000 more becoming eligible each year through 2016.

During the first four months of the program, the Department of Homeland Security received an average of about 10,000 applications per week. DACA got off to a good start. The numbers applying dropped off substantially in 2013 and this year only about 2,000 applications per week are being received.

The total number of applications made over a little less than two years is 673,000. That is fewer than half the people believed to be eligible to apply.

The problem of low enrollment does not appear to lie in the handling of the cases by Homeland Security. Of the 570,000 cases that have been decided, 96 percent have been granted. There are few immigration programs with as high a success rate. There were problems associated with long delays in approving cases, but after the programs first year those were largely resolved.

So why have so few people applied for this program?

One answer is the high fee. The Homeland Security fee is $465, more than a week’s income for many applicants. The normal fee waiver process available for most other immigration application was explicitly suspended for those applying for DACA.

A second is high legal costs. Many immigration lawyers, hoping to cash-in on what they saw as a windfall, charged fees of more than $1,000 for a service that took roughly two hours to perform. Although those fees have come down a lot in the last year, they left the impression that this was an impossibly expensive process.

The third problem was marketing. Most articles about DACA showed photos of college kids in caps and gowns applying. This sent a message that this program was only for the highly educated. In fact, an immigrant in her late twenties enrolled in an ESL program as preparation for the high school equivalency diploma has the academic credentials necessary to apply for DACA.

The marketing problem is one that the New York Immigration Coalition has begun to address with a campaign to let folks as old as 32 who have not completed high school know that they can be eligible for DACA. In addition, many non-profit organizations are offering free or low-cost help in applying for DACA.

Patrick Young, Esq. is an attorney with the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) in Hempstead.

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