- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Homeland Security Department has doubled the rate of denials of Dreamers’ amnesty applications, according to numbers released Wednesday that suggest the administration had been taking a harder line even before President Trump’s announcement this month that he would phase out the DACA program altogether.

Some 32 percent applications for DACA status that were decided from April to June were rejected. That is twice the 16 percent rate of the last months of the Obama administration and far more than the 1 percent denial rate in the early days of the program.

Analysts said the increase is evidence that Mr. Trump’s get-tough approach is having an effect at all levels of Homeland Security, including the officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who rule on applications for legal immigration benefits such as green cards, citizenship and DACA, the Obama-era deportation amnesty.

“I think the pro-enforcement message from the Trump administration is finally trickling down to the field supervisors and line employees at USCIS,” said Matthew J. O’Brien, a former official at the agency, who is now research director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “That would account for a portion of the higher rate of denials.”

He said the big change wasn’t a rise in the sheer number of denials, which have remained steady, but rather a drop in the total number of applications approved. Those fell from about 17,000 in the first three months of the calendar year to about 5,900 in the second quarter, which helped boost the denial rate.

Mr. O’Brien said the numbers could signal that USCIS is conducting more stringent checks on documents, criminal records and immigration history than it did under President Obama, when adjudicators were under pressure to approve as many applications as possible and sometimes missed red flags.

Indeed, in the early going, the DACA program had an approval rate of 99 percent — a factor that judges used to undercut Mr. Obama’s attempt to expand the amnesty in 2014 to include millions more people.

The Trump administration, citing those court rulings, said this month that it doubted it could defend the DACA program in court. While no judge had ever ruled directly on the merits of DACA, Texas vowed to bring a legal challenge that would have forced the issue.

Instead, Mr. Trump said he would phase out the program over the next six months, giving some of those already approved a chance to renew for another two years. Regardless, anyone currently protected by DACA would keep their protections for the remainder of their existing two-year permits.

Some 97,000 DACA recipients were approved for renewals in the quarter that ran from April to June, according to the numbers released Wednesday, while just 1,000 were denied. That low denial rate is in line with previous quarters.

With Congress now working on a bill to grant Dreamers more permanent legal status, the Trump administration’s approach to vetting applications could matter immensely. Mr. O’Brien said there is plenty of room for improvement compared with what happened under the previous administration.

“The vetting procedures were a joke. And there was a clear message, from the White House on down, that the vast majority of DACA applications should be approved,” he said.

“In short, the president of the United States implemented an unlawful program to further the interests of illegal aliens and did so at the expense of national security and public safety. Tragically, legislators and the courts are now treating the program as if it were legitimate, once again preserving the interests of illegal aliens while ignoring the concerns of the American people,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Immigrant rights groups contacted by The Washington Times on Wednesday either didn’t respond or didn’t have thoughts about the rising denial rate.

USCIS said it is processing applications the same way and any changes could be flukes of timing or a small sample size.

“There have been no changes to the adjudicative guidelines for requesting DACA, and officers continue to adjudicate requests for deferred action under the existing guidelines and policy,” the agency said in a statement.

In addition to the approval data, the agency released updated statistics describing the population of 689,800 illegal immigrants currently protected by DACA.

Females outnumbered males, making up 53 percent of the program, and the average age of DACA recipients was 24, according to the data. Some 15 percent of DACA recipients were married at the time of their most recent applications, 83 percent were single, and a small fraction were widowed or divorced.

Rosemary Jenks, government relations manager at NumbersUSA, which advocates for stricter immigration controls, said she was struck by the number of DACA recipients from major industrialized countries or English-speaking nations. She said that undercut the argument that those Dreamers would have a tough time assimilating back home.

“I think it is pretty hard to argue we owe them amnesty,” she said.

For years, activists argued that Dreamers were the most sympathetic figures in the immigration debate, deserving of special consideration, because they often knew no other country, were brought to the U.S. by their parents and were blameless for their situations. The implication was that the sins of the parent shouldn’t be visited on the child.

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, added a wrinkle Wednesday, saying the country owes the parents for their illegal actions.

“Their families did a great thing for our country, bringing these kids here, who are working, who are in the military, who are in school, who are a brilliant part of our future,” she said.

She was responding to complaints from illegal immigrant Dreamers who protested her at an event this week, forcing her to cancel her appearance. The activists said they wanted to pressure Congress to enact a broad legalization that would go beyond the Dreamers and include all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S.

Mrs. Pelosi said Wednesday that it is a worthy goal but not realistic in the current debate.

“We are not in a situation where we can say all or none. We have to save the Dreamers now,” she said. “The constituency is there for our country. Its success will lead to other success.”

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