How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Deferred action approvals hit 150,000, but applications at all-time low

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The Obama administration has approved more than 150,000 applicants for temporary legal status under the deferred action program. And while approvals keep ticking up, the number of applicants in the pipeline has dwindled to its lowest number since the program launched in August.

The program allows young undocumented immigrants who arrived under age 16 to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit. To qualify, they must have a relatively clean record, have lived in the United States at least five consecutive years, and have been no older than 30 as of last June 15.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Services reported Friday that 154,404 people have been approved through January 17 for what's formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But the average daily number of applications received by the agency is down to 1,429, a record low so far. The daily application tally has been dropping steadily since September, when applications received per day peaked at an average of 5,715.

A previous post explored many theories about the meager interest: The steep $465 filing fee and additional legal costs that many applicants incur; the documentation requirements to prove five years' residency, which is a problem for many older applicants; the fear many still have over revealing their status; and renewed hope since November's election of a broader long-term legislative fix now that both Democrats and Republicans are discussing immigration reform.

Those who have received approval say they have a new life. They can apply for jobs that are not under the table, and California and some other states, they can get driver's licenses. As 21-year-old college student Ivan Ceja of Compton told KPCC recently:

“I started driving at 17, and halfway through the semester during my first semester of college I got pulled over, and so I had the experience of having my car taken away. And that was really sad, I remember. A lot of people don’t realize what a big difference it makes to have a car, like a license. It just feels great. I feel a lot more confident."

A new law took effect in California Jan. 1 that guarantees licenses for deferred action recipients. But several other states including Arizona and Iowa have banned them.

Meanwhile, the granting of work permits is having some interesting results. In Florida, the deferred action work permit granted to law school graduate José Godínez-Samperio could help him win his case in the Florida Supreme Court, as reported by CBS Miami. Samperio, much like undocumented law school graduate Sergio Garcia in California, has been fighting in court for the right to work as an attorney.

U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services posted updates today to its frequently asked questions about deferred action on the agency's home page. Among them was this clarification:

Q6: If my case is deferred, am I in lawful status for the period of deferral?

A6: No. Although action on your case has been deferred and you do not accrue unlawful presence (for admissibility purposes) during the period of deferred action, deferred action does not confer any lawful status.

Read more about deferred action here.

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