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Deferred action applications continue at slower pace

Close to 300 people waited in line to attend orientation classes on deferred action from the non-profit Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA, when the program first kicked off in August.
Close to 300 people waited in line to attend orientation classes on deferred action from the non-profit Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA, when the program first kicked off in August.
Josie Huang/KPCC

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What some initially perceived as an election-related drop in applications for deferred action - a federal program offering temporary legal status to young undocumented immigrants - has continued into December. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is reporting that the daily pace of incoming applications for the program continues to slow.

The agency's latest numbers show that while applications peaked at 5,715 a day in September, they averaged 3,988 a day through the entire month of November. Through Dec. 13, incoming applications have been averaging 2,720 a day.

The Obama administration introduced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA,  in June; the program officially lauched Aug. 15. It offers a two-year reprieve from deportation plus work permits to qualifying young people who arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday, were no older than 30 as of June 15, have a relatively clean record and can prove they have lived in the country for five consecutive years.

When the program began, there were lines out the door at some immigrant service organizations and foreign consulates. By mid-fall, however, interest from applicants had begun to drop off; some would-be applicants hesitated in light of the coming presidential election, especially after Republican presidental candidate Mitt Romney's campaign indicated that Romney would not continue the program if elected. 

But more than a month after Romney's defeat, the pace hasn't picked up. There are several theories as to why. Some immigrant advocates believe the $465 filing fee is too steep for many applicants, especially at this time of year. Others believe that as younger applicants move through the pipeline, older ones who have been out of school for some time - and have likely been working off the books - are having a harder time coming up with the required documents to prove how long they've lived in this country.

From the start, some young people have been reluctant to apply, either for fear of outing themselves or loved ones or because they are afraid they may not qualify, even if they do. And with the renewed talk of comprehensive immigration reform from both major political parties since the election, some may be holding out for a broader legislative solution and staying put.

Here's what Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles had to say about that last month:

 “There is a sense of expectation, but we have been trying to temper it with our understanding that...we really might not see anything formalized or decided on in 2013,” he said. “We want to, but it may take a couple of years before we see something real that will impact these DACA-eligible students and their families.”

While immigration reform talks have picked up steam, there's no guarantee that such a plan will materialize. Democrats and Republicans are at odds over various aspects, including whether undocumented immigrants should benefit from a path to citizenship. The Obama administration has been talking about taking on immigration reform in the near future, but not until it resolves the fiscal cliff budget crisis.

When the deferred action program first launched, observers estimated that close to 2 million young people could be eligible. But the number of applicants so far has fallen short of expectations.

Through Dec. 13, the federal government has received 367,903 applications for deferred action Of those, 355,889 have been accepted and 12,014 rejected.

As for those who have made it to final approval, there has been a jump since last month: 102,965 deferred action applicants have been approved as of Thursday; by mid-November, only 53,273 had been approved.

See more of the federal DACA numbers here