DHS Approves Over 80% of DREAMers Who Apply for Legal Status

Democrats still seeking immigration reform legislation

October 29, 2013

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has approved over 80 percent of young illegal immigrants who have applied for its Deferred Action program, an administrative version of the DREAM Act.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said they have granted legal status to 474,000 of the 580,000 illegal aliens who have applied.

"Last June, DHS announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process, allowing young people who meet the guidelines to seek a two year provisional legal status to remain in the United States," wrote Maria Odom, the ombudsman for USCIS, on Oct. 24.

"Our office played a key role in this effort by assisting with individual cases, sharing stakeholder feedback with USCIS and suggesting improvements to the application process," she said.

"Already, more than 580,000 individuals have requested deferred action, and after a thorough review of each of those cases, including a background check, more than 474,000 requests have been approved, allowing these young people to continue to contribute to the country they call home."

The figures provided show that the agency has approved 81.72 percent of the applications they have received.

Odom said the high approval rate is not enough, and illegal immigrants need a "permanent fix."

"While impactful and necessary, these efforts are not a permanent fix, which is why we’ve also continued to be a strong advocate for comprehensive immigration reform," she said.

The Obama administration announced last year that it would not deport the so-called "DREAMers," or children brought to the United States illegally. The policy is a bureaucratic version of the DREAM Act, which would have given citizenship to young illegal aliens but failed to pass Congress in December 2010.

The program applies to illegal immigrants brought to the country before they were 16 and who are younger than 30. In order to be eligible, applicants must have lived in the U.S. for 5 years; be in school or the military; and have no felonies, significant misdemeanors, or "pose a threat to national security."

Those approved receive work permits that last for two years, which can then be renewed.

Through DHS, Odom said the Obama administration is attempting to "fundamentally change" the immigration system.

"From the start of this administration, the department has worked to fundamentally change how we approach the challenge of building a stronger, more effective, and more just immigration system," she said. "At DHS, we take our immigration responsibilities seriously and the ombudsman’s office plays a key role in assisting thousands of individuals and employers each year who experience challenges in the processing of their immigration case."

"When it comes to immigration, we are working hard at DHS to strike the right balance between smart enforcement, the sensible use of agency discretion, and a more just and fair immigration system," Odom said.

Last week, President Barack Obama again advocated for immigration reform, urging Congress to grant a pathway to citizenship for all who are living in the country illegally by the end of the year.

Though immigration reform passed by the Senate has stalled in the House, Republicans have also shown support for amnesty of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) is crafting the KIDS Act, a GOP version of the DREAM Act, and has said legalizing young undocumented immigrants is the "compassionate" thing to do.

Kenneth Palinkas, president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the union representing 12,000 USCIS adjudications officers and staff, is wary of Cantor’s bill.

"I am also worried about the arguments being used to support the KIDS Act, one piece of the wider citizenship plan being drafted," Palinkas said in a statement on Oct. 10. "Legislators, including Mr. Cantor and Mr. [Bob] Goodlatte [R., Va.], have suggested that it is improper to apply immigration law to younger illegal aliens."

"But if it is improper to apply immigration law to one specific group of illegal aliens, then why should we expect future illegal aliens in this group to be treated any differently?" he asked. "This seems like an argument for extending birthright citizenship in the future to include the foreign citizens of other countries."

"Should we just expect that the next secretary at DHS will use the arguments we are hearing in the House to enact the next Deferred Action program in anticipation of the next legislated amnesty?" Palinkas said.