- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2014

The test run for immigration legalization — the 2012 program to grant tentative legal status to young illegal immigrants — has exposed some serious problems that likely would need to be solved if Congress approves a broad immigration reform bill creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million in the country illegally.

From exceptionally high approval rates — 97 percent of all applicants have been given legal status — to accusations that the government gave the illegal immigrants’ applications priority over those of legal immigrants, the trial run shows some of the difficulties in administering any legalization.

For young immigrants who have obtained legal status, it has been a boon. They have gained work permits and are able to access some privileges such as obtaining driver’s licenses.

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Critics say the 97 percent rate suggests little vetting that would lead to approval of criminals and other undeserving applicants if the same method is applied to a broader legalization program.

“That says that the agency is going to be rubber-stamping applications and they’re going to be focused primarily on approving as many people as possible as quickly as possible, with only a light review, and that their focus is going to be on quantity of approvals rather than quality of decisions,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was born out of President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Struggling to bolster support among Hispanic voters in the months before the election, the president said he would use executive action to halt deportations for young illegal immigrants. He previously said he didn’t have that authority.

The first applications arrived on Aug. 15, 2012, and more than 610,000 had been successfully submitted as of Dec. 31, 2013. Of those, 521,815 were approved and 15,968 were denied, which worked out to a 97.03 percent approval rating.

Immigration advocates said the high approval rate isn’t a sign of lax vetting, but rather evidence that those who applied were prepared and deserving. They said those who were ineligible generally didn’t bother to apply and that the bigger problem wasn’t too many undeserving immigrants trying to gain status, but too few deserving people.

“By far, the biggest barrier to people applying has been just blatant misinformation,” said Adam Luna, director of Own the Dream campaign, which helps “dreamers.”

The name is taken from legislation that never passed Congress but would have given young immigrants a path to citizenship. Mr. Obama’s policy cannot confer citizenship, but it can confer benefits of legal status such as work permits.

Mr. Luna said the application process for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals presented some early problems but that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency in charge of approving immigration benefits, worked closely with advocates to resolve the issues.

Mr. Luna said that feedback loop would be important for any broader legalization.

More recently, the program came under fire after The New York Times reported that the Obama administration couldn’t handle the level of applications and had to delay processing Americans’ requests for family members’ visas in order to process the deferred action requests.

The time frame for the family reunification requests went from an average of five months to as long as 15 months, according to the report.

Kenneth Palinkas, president of the union for USCIS officers and adjudicators, who has battled the agency over its policies, said they feared those sorts of problems could result from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

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