Pace of DACA Approvals Quickens, but Will it be Fast Enough?

For the first time since immigration authorities officially launched Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in mid-August, the federal government released statistics last Friday indicating that thousands of requests have been officially granted. But while the figures themselves are an encouraging sign, other evidence suggests that most applicants will not have their requests considered until after the next presidential inauguration in January, if at all.

As of October 10, according to figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), immigration officials had accepted nearly 180,000 requests; scheduled nearly 160,000 appointments to submit fingerprints; and formally granted deferred action to 4,591 individuals. (Of those whose requests have been granted, USCIS did not state how many had received work permits.) Compared to unofficial figures leaked earlier in the month—which revealed that 87,000 requests had been accepted and 36 approved through September 12—Friday’s numbers reflect a significant spike in both categories.

Why? The jump in the number of applications is likely due to the fact that it simply took many DREAMers longer to submit their applications than was originally expected. School districts have been strained by requests for transcripts and other records demonstrating continuous presence in the country, and many applicants have reportedly collected more documentation than necessary as a precautionary measure.

Meanwhile, the rise in the number of granted requests is likely the result of more individual applicants completing the steps needed for USCIS employees to officially process their applications, such as submitting fingerprints during a scheduled appointment. In this respect, the backlog of DACA applications is similar to line of cars stopped at a red light: Not everyone can move once the light turns green, but as each driver gets space to accelerate, more and more vehicles make it through the intersection.

Yet despite the significant increase in the pace of grants, other evidence suggests that most applicants will still be waiting for a response on January 20, the date of the next presidential inauguration. As was reported in the Wall Street Journal, USCIS anticipates that most requests will take between four and six months to process, meaning that DREAMers who submitted their applications on August 15 may still be waiting for an answer when President Obama begins his second term or Mitt Romney begins his first.

Moreover, even after a request for deferred action is granted, USCIS has up to 90 days to issue a work permit. Given Romney’s pledge to discontinue the program upon taking office (at least for individuals who have not yet received deferred action), it remains unclear how his administration would treat applicants whose requests for deferred action have been granted but have yet to receive an employment authorization document.

In short, although 1.8 million immigrants could qualify for deferred action now or in the future, Friday’s numbers suggest only a small fraction will be reap the full benefit of the program by inauguration day.

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  1. Marisabel Cabrera says:

    Do we have any figures with regard to how many, if any, applications have been DENIED? It would be interesting to know. Thanks. ~Atty. Marisabel Cabrera

  2. Hi Marisabel. Unfortunately, USCIS has not released figures on how many (if any) DACA requests have been denied. If/when it does, we will be sure to mention them. – Ben Winograd

  3. Dreamer says:

    Is there an estimate how long September applications will take I did my biometris 1 of October and I was just curious

  4. Are there any stats on the fee exemptions? Requests sent to USCIS, requests granted/denied, timeline? Who is being approved? Thanks…just thought I’d ask since there are a few youth who have not and maybe will not apply because of the cost.

  5. Ana Sol Gutierrez says:

    Sorry, Ben, but I really don’t see a “significant” increase in the pace of processing DACA applicants. It’s going to take more than a few months for current applicants to be processed. Being a numbers person, I simply did a little bit of arithmetic on the numbers released by USCIS.
    1) By granting 4591 deferred actions out of the 180,000 applications received, USCIS has only processed 2.55% of those submitted, and only 2.87% of the 160,000 granted appointments!
    2) Considering that USCIS has processed 160,000 appointments in 55 days, the daily work rate for appointments is 83 applications per day. (This is a very generous calculation, as I included weekends as if they were full work days in the 55 days.)
    3) At this rate, it will take USCIS 1928 days to process the applications it already has in-house and with scheduled appointments. Unfortunately, 1928 days means current applicants will have to wait 5.2 years (!) to be granted a work permit. That’s longer than the next President’s four-year term in office!

    • Ben Winograd says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ana. The assumptions underlying your calculations are incorrect. There was an initial lag in the number of processed requests because applicants had to collect the required documentation, have their fingerprints taken, etc. Going forward, however, USCIS will unquestionably process more than 83 applications per day. Indeed, to process all the pending applications in under six months (which the agency has said it will do), it would need the capacity to process around 1,000 applications per day.

    • Ali says:

      You might also note that the government is facing a possibility of sequestration if a budget is not passed. That is likely to mean furloughs and/or reductions in force at agencies, slowing the work of these agencies. As it is now, agencies are also not filling positions and are offering buy outs to reduce the work force in anticipation of budget cuts or sequestration.

  6. To anyone with questions or seeking advice:

    Since our focus is policy, we can’t give out any form of legal advice on this blog, and we don’t endorse any comments as legitimate legal advice.

    What we can do is refer you to people who CAN help you out. In the case of DACA specifically, we would refer you to We Own the Dream. Their FAQ page is particularly useful.

    http://www.weownthedream.org/faq/

    If you want to find a lawyer, check out the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association referral page:

    http://www.ailalawyer.com

    Good luck!

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