US invites illegal immigrants to apply for right to remain

President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme comes into force today (Wednesday 15th August 2012). The scheme allows some young illegal immigrants to apply for a determination granting them freedom from deportation proceedings for a two year period. Successful applicants will then be allowed to apply for a permit to work in the US.

Under the scheme, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may, after receiving an application, reach a 'determination to defer removal action of an individual as an act of prosecutorial discretion'. This means that the applicant does not gain any right to remain in the USA but it is guaranteed that deportation proceedings will not be pursued while the determination is in force. In practice, this means that, if you are successful in your application, you can remain in the US for a period of two years. The moment the two year period expires, the applicant is, once more, an illegal immigrant and deportation proceedings can continue. In the meantime, you could apply for another visa under the DACA scheme.

The US government has stressed that the scheme will not lead to the granting of full citizenship to applicants. It will cost applicants US465 to apply. Each determination will last for two years. Applicants may apply more than once, providing they continue to meet all the eligibility criteria.

In order to qualify applicants must

  • Have arrived in the US before they were 16 years old
  • Have lived in the US for over 5 years
  • Be aged 30 or under
  • Be in school, or a graduate or have served in the military
  • Not have been convicted of certain, serious criminal offences nor pose a safety or security threat

Applicants must be able to prove their identity and their eligibility. Officials in USCIS says that passports, school records and sworn affidavits may all be acceptable as proof of identity and eligibility. The necessary forms can be downloaded from the USCIS website. Decisions on applications should take several months. USCIS warns applicants not to leave the country while awaiting a decision. Successful applicants will not have the automatic right of return to the US either before or after their determination. If they travel internationally, even successful applicants will have to apply to re-enter the country and this will cost them a further US$360.

Spokespeople for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which contains USCIS, have repeatedly claimed that the Department has no estimate of how many people will apply. However, an internal DHS document obtained by the Associated Press predicts that 1.04m people will apply in the first year of whom 890,000 will be eligible for deferred action. The Migration Policy Institute of Washington, DC, which describes itself as 'an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide', has estimated that up to 1.7m people could be eligible.

House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman, Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, says that the scheme will allow 'potentially millions of illegal immigrants…to compete with American workers for scarce jobs…there seems to be little if any mechanism in place for vetting fraudulent applications.' The DHS says that it will refer fraudulent applicants to federal immigration agents.

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