President Obama has granted more than 430,000 illegal immigrants an exemption from being deported under his Dream Act policy, which turned a year old Thursday.
The policy has worked so well that immigrant-rights groups say it should be expanded to include all 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S. — a move Mr. Obama has been reluctant to make.
"If the president granted me DACA, then why can't he do the same for the rest of my family? What makes us different?" Brisa Cruz said in a statement released by the California Youth Immigrant Justice Alliance.
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, as the program is known in government-speak, began taking applications Aug. 15, 2012. By the end of last month, 430,236 people had been granted a stay of deportation while just 7,450 applicants had been denied — for an approval rate of 98.3 percent.
That high rate concerns enforcement advocates, who say U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is rubber-stamping applications and isn't doing a good job of looking for fraud.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano, who initially was resistant to using executive authority to stop deporting broad categories of people, said Thursday that the program's success sets the stage for broader legalization.
"Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified in DACA cases," Ms. Napolitano wrote in a blog posting on the Homeland Security website. "And, by removing the threat of deportation for people brought to the country as children, we have been able to continue to focus our enforcement efforts on serious criminals, public safety threats, and those who pose a danger to national security."
The DACA policy grants illegal immigrants a stay of deportation, but only Congress can confer full permanent legal status — something Ms. Napolitano said lawmakers should make happen.
Advocates said the policy has been a success not only in granting tentative legalization but also in changing the political debate.
Mr. Obama announced the policy in June 2012 amid his campaign for a second term in which he was struggling to connect with Hispanic voters. His announcement changed that, putting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the defensive. Mr. Romney refused to take a position on whether he would continue the policy if elected.
Many analysts credited Mr. Obama's victory with his success in winning Hispanic voters. Top Republicans said they needed to join in an effort to legalize illegal immigrants and put the issue behind them for good.
Under the DACA policy, illegal immigrants are granted work permits and are generally able to obtain driver's licenses.
Demographers estimated that more than 1 million people would qualify. Applicants had to have been 31 or younger, have been brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, and have met education requirements or joined the U.S. military.
But only slightly more than 550,000 applications have been completed, and the number of new forms filed each month continues to drop. Just 16,000 completed applications were submitted in July, which is 14 percent of the rate at the peak in October.
The administration still has a backlog of 62,777 applications awaiting a final decision, while another 52,455 are in the pipeline awaiting criminal records checks.
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