Newly released US government data shows that approximately 50,000 people have applied for the DACA US immigration program since it reopened to first-time applicants in December 2020. Between January and March 2021, fewer than 800 immigrants – or 1.5% of applicants during that time span – had their first-time applications for DACA approved.
These numbers have alarmed immigrant advocates who referred to a pending court case that threatens the DACA program’s existence. Recently, a federal judge in Texas called DACA unlawful and is set to issue a ruling on the legality of the US immigration program, which several Republican-led states are seeking to abolish.
The Texas-led coalition of states have argued that the Obama administration ‘overreached its executive authority’ when it created DACA in 2012.
As of March 31 2021, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported a backlog of more than 55,000 pending first-time DACA applications. The number of immigrants enrolled in DACA decreased to 616,000, representing a 3% slump from December 2020.
The decline in enrollment numbers follows a years-long downward trend as some DACA recipients gain permanent legal status or don’t renew their protections.
Karen Tumlin, a lawyer who has represented DACA recipients in federal litigation, told CBS News: “This is an absolutely imperative time for USCIS to be prioritizing and processing DACA applications.”
“We have to remember that these aren’t numbers. These are people who have waited for over three years to apply and are fearful every day that there could be a court ruling closing down the program,” Tumlin added.
Social security cards
In addition to protecting immigrants from deportation, the DACA US immigration program offers undocumented immigrants, who came to the US as children, work permits and gives them access to social security cards. Many use their enrollment in the program to request state driving licenses.
USCIS spokesperson, Victoria Palmer, told CBS News: “We acknowledge that there are delays in processing applications, especially because of the coronavirus and a rise in petition numbers.”
Meanwhile, some of the delays have also been caused by holdups in scheduling biometric appointments, which requires first-time DACA petitioners to attend in person.
Ms Palmer said: “USCIS is expanding services at offices that collect biometrics and scheduling appointments during extended hours. We are committed to clearing out backlogs and minimizing processing delays to help facilitate access to benefits and restore confidence in the system.”
“Our policies and processes have a direct impact on the ability of DACA beneficiaries to enrich our nation with their talents, whether it’s through entrepreneurship and innovation, public service, arts and education or building strong families and communities,” Palmer added.
Under the Trump administration, the DACA program withstood termination on several occasions, with the Supreme Court last year finding that officials had violated administrative law when they moved to end the policy in 2017.
However, the program remained inaccessible to new applicants until a New York-based federal judge in December 2020 found that former acting head of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, lacked the legal authority to scale back DACA.
However, despite three court victories, an ongoing case before US District Court Judge, Andrew Hansen, is likely to shape the future of DACA. Texas has urged Hanen to either suspend DACA by blocking new applicants and renewals or delay an order terminating a program in its entirety for two years.
Pledge to protect DACA
The Biden administration has pledged to protect DACA through a series of new regulations and has backed legislation that would put the program’s beneficiaries and other so-called ‘Dreamers’ on a pathway to US citizenship.
However, no timeline has been announced for the regulations and it remains unclear whether the bill passed by the Democrat-led House will generate 10 Republican votes in the Senate.
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