Since late fall 2013 through the summer of 2014, 52,000 unaccompanied minors, mainly children from Central America, have flocked to our southern border with Mexico hoping to be allowed to remain in the United States. During this same period approximately 39,000 mothers accompanied by their young children have also flocked to our border setting up what many have described as a “border crisis.” These unaccompanied children and mothers with children are not trying to sneak into the U.S.; instead they arrive at the border and ask to be taken into custody in order that they might be allowed to remain in the United States. Many of the children and their mothers may have legitimate claims of persecution in their home country which would allow them to gain asylum in the United States. Most probably do not have such a legitimate claim to asylum. However, as I write this President Obama and the Congress of the United States are grappling with finding a humanitarian solution to this crisis involving the thousands of children who have left their homelands.
This article is not written in an effort to predict what will happen with respect to this current problem. Instead, this article seeks to illuminate an earlier initiative that has helped thousands of foreign children who were brought to the United States when they were children and have grown up with undocumented legal status in our country.
On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced a policy to grant young undocumented noncitizens a chance to work and study in the U.S. without fear of deportation. Under the new policy, the U. S. Immigration and Customs Service (USICE) would stop attempting to deport these undocumented noncitizens who were under 30 years old, who were brought to the U.S. as children and are otherwise law abiding. The initiative became effective by executive order of the President on August 15, 2012, was entitled Deferral of Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). At its initiation it was estimated that as many as 800,000 such undocumented residents now in the U.S. could qualify for this new status.
The undocumented children would qualify if they: came to the U.S. before age 16; were under 30 years old; had continuously resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years preceding the date of the new policy; were in school, graduated from high school, earned a GED or were honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed forces; and have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors or do not pose a threat to national security or public safety. Qualifying childhood arrivals would be eligible for: indefinite deferral of removal (deportation) from the U.S.; a two year work permit; and no limit on the number of renewals for work permits.
The numbers of childhood arrivals who have been approved for the program have not reached the estimated 800,000 that could apply, but the numbers of those taking advantage of the program have been robust. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported that more than 455,000 young undocumented childhood arrivals were granted the ability to live and work in the country during the first 13 months of the DACA program. USCIS data for 2013 revealed that during those first 13 months 588,725 people applied for DACA relief and 455,455 were approved for it. This amounted to seventy-seven percent of applicants being granted deferred action. The government further reported that 21,200 applications were rejected during the intake process, and 9,600 were denied after case review.
The deferred action program does not grant full legal status nor does it provide a path to legal permanent resident status or to citizenship. However, it does allow the childhood arrivals to obtain a driver’s license and work authorization. The authorization only lasts two years and can be rescinded if an applicant commits a crime or is deemed subject to deportation on other grounds. The initiative has lessened the pressure of possible deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people.
The numbers of applications and approvals of applications up through the first quarter of 2014 have also been encouraging and demonstrate the continued popularity of the initiative. The total requests accepted since the commencement of the program stood at 610,694 with a total of 521,815 having been approved. In other words, in just under two years we have allowed over one half million childhood arrivals a modicum of dignity and relief from fear of deportation that will allow them to help themselves and their families. Hopefully some day they may be allowed a path to full legal status.
If President Obama and his administration can devise such a humane process for those brought to the United States as children, I am certain that the President and the Congress, working together, should be able to devise a humane solution to the unaccompanied children and mothers with children who have flocked to our borders since the fall of 2013.