Most Applicants for Obama's DREAM Act-Style Program Come from L.A., But Many Not Applying At All

WASHINGTON – Two years into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) nearly half of eligible youth have not applied, according to a report.

The program grants young illegal immigrants who meet specific residency and education criteria the chance to apply for a two-year renewable reprieve from deportation, allowing them to get temporary work permits and stay in the U.S. legally.

Last month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released statistics of the applicants for 75 metropolitan areas containing 82 percent of requests.

Most metro areas on this list have between 1,000 and 9,000 applicants, but 11 are home to at least 11,000 DACA applicants. Los Angeles has the largest number with 13 percent of total applicants nationwide. Applicants living in the nation’s major metro areas make up half of all applications.

The top areas for DACA requests are large metro areas with sizable immigration populations.

Approvals vary greatly in different cities. According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, the approval rate average in metro areas is 89 percent, with Riverside and Chicago having the highest approval rates at 93 percent each. Despite the high number of applicants in New York and Houston, they have lower than average approval rates at 84 and 85 percent, respectively.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) said in the report that about 55 percent of 1.2 million youths who meet the program’s criteria have applied.

In total, USCIS received 673,000 first-time applications. About 587,000 young immigrants, or 86 percent of applicants, have received DACA during the two years since President Obama authorized the deferrals in 2012.

MPI estimates that 2.1 million undocumented youth could potentially benefit from DACA.

California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and New York, states that traditionally attract high numbers of immigrants, have the largest proportion of DACA-eligible youth. The rates of people who have applied vary widely – 64 percent have applied in Texas, but only 39 percent in Florida.

The report said that the varying state application rates reflect, in part, the different population composition, language diversity, access to information, state policies, and “the climate of reception for immigrants.”

For instance, in states such as Virginia and Massachusetts, where policies affecting immigrants’ access to postsecondary education, driver’s licenses, and other benefits are less restrictive, DACA application rates are lower. Other states that have taken a tough stance toward undocumented immigrants, such as Arizona, have motivated more people to apply for the program.

Arizona leads in the rate of eligible applicants who have applied with 66 percent.

Several factors may be holding down the number of applicants. One factor is the fee for applying to the program, which, at $465, many undocumented immigrants may find prohibitive. Many young people brought to the country illegally are afraid to show themselves.

Another factor is that many of these youth cannot prove that they have continuously resided in the U.S. since 2007. For those who are already beyond the traditional high school age, DACA requires enrollment in an adult education or workforce training program – a challenge for those with work and family responsibilities.

Renewal applications have dropped, with only 25,000 applications for the program since USCIS announced the instructions on June 5. That number is below the 28,000 that applied in 2012. This year’s applicants will have to renew their status in 2016.