Even for DREAMers, legalization takes more than the strike of a pen

A BROOKINGS Metropolitan Policy Program study published Wednesday shows that a federal programme started by the Obama administration one year ago has helped more than 400,000 young immigrants who came to the US undocumented as children.

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), these individuals – known as DREAMers, in reference to the legislative piece that failed to pass Congress for over a decade – are given temporary suspension of deportation and allowed to work in this country.

Simple things, like driving a car, being able to hold a Social Security card in their hands and just existing without the fear of being themselves are now at reach for many young immigrants since DACA was set up by executive order on Aug 15, 2012.

But here is what the Brookings study also shows: the progress of applications suggests how painful the process actually is.

Some 900,000 people were estimated to be immediately eligible for deferred action at the date of the announcement – even perhaps 1.5 million, perhaps 1.9 million, pundits said at the time.

Until June 30, the number of actual applicants had reached just under 560,000.

“What this reveals is perhaps who’s not applying and who is — I don’t want to say left behind, but where the gaps are in terms of either country of origin or state-level data that we see,” Brookings senior fellow Audrey Singer told the Huffington Post. “It begs the question, what are the obstacles for other people?”

For those who grew up living in the shadows, simply proving their existence can be a significant challenge. Pro-immigrant groups also point out to the financial barrier that the US$ 465 application fee represents. And the Brookings reports that many may not believe they are eligible – or realize that they are undocumented in the first place.

The exercise can bring some subtlety to the immigration debate that has been framed on a somewhat black-or-white approach since the House started to work on its own bill. It looks like the Representatives would approve some sort of path to citizenship for the DREAMers. But fears of an overwhelming wave of newly legalized immigrants – even among the ones considered to be the easiest, most straightforward cases – may be overplayed.

Just this week, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida warned his fellow Republicans that if they didn’t pass a bill legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants, then President Obama might do it himself and reap the political benefits of it.

“I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, to issue an executive order as he did for the DREAM Act kids a year ago, where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen,” Rubio said.

Reality is proving to be a little harder than that.

Here are some highlights of the study. You can find the whole thing here:

– Three-quarters of DACA applicants came from Mexico, even though they were born in 192 countries;
– Regionally, Central Americans comprised 10 percent of the total, South Americans were 7 percent, Asians made up 4 percent, Caribbeans were 2 percent of the total, and those from all other countries made up the remaining 2 percent;
– Nearly three-quarters of DACA applicants have lived in the United States for at least ten years and nearly one-third were age five or younger at arrival;
– More than one-third of DACA applicants were between 15 and 18, and the universe of applications in the East Coast cover a more diverse background.

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