The Obama administration has approved a whopping 99.5 percent of the request for the new Deferred Action program that protects undocumented youth from deportation and grants them work permits, a conservative think tank calculates.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) says this approval rate is “quite worrisome” because it appears to be “well above” the approval rates for other programs like it. It also questions whether the Obama administration is doing enough to weed out fraud in the application process for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as it’s formally known.
“USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] should answer public concerns that DACA applicants are not required to prove their claims of eligibility, and that the agency is taking proper care to vet applicants so that unqualified and possibly dangerous individuals will be screened out and removed,” Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at CIS, said in statement.
President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action program on June 15. A month later, USCIS began accepting requests for the federal program.
USCIS latest data shows that by the end of March, the agency had accepted 472,004 requests for Deferred Action. Of those requests, 268,361 were approved and 1,377 were denied. The rest are still under review.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday that the DACA program serves as “a good pilot” for how to legalize a larger group of immigrants should Congress approve an immigration reform bill.
Vaughan warned that “no large-scale legalization program should be implemented until a thorough quality control and fraud assessment of DACA has been conducted.”
USCIS says 99.5 percent approval rate is ‘inaccurate’
But USCIS press secretary Christopher Bentley rejected CIS’s claim that 99.5 percent of DACA requests have been approved.
He said the accurate approval rate is 57 percent, taking into account the 472,004 requests that have been accepted and the 268,361 requests that have been approved.
“It’s simply inaccurate to say there’s an approval rate of 99.5 percent, because it doesn’t look at the whole application process,” Bentley told VOXXI.
He explained that there are hundreds of requests that are still being reviewed, including 16,778 requests that were rejected because they were deemed incomplete. A letter asking for additional evidence was sent to applicants whose request was rejected. USCIS makes a decision on whether to approve or deny those requests once the additional evidence is received, a process that could take weeks.
Bentley said he expects the number of denied requests for Deferred Action will increase as USCIS decides on the remaining requests that are under review.
USCIS statistics show there has already been an uptick in the number of deferred action requests that have been denied. From Aug. 15 until the end of October, only six requests for deferred action were denied. In the month of March alone, 841 requests were denied.
USCIS has also made it clear that anyone who commits fraud on a request for Deferred Action will be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These individuals could also be subject to criminal prosecution and/or removal from the U.S.
Still, CIS suspects that the level of fraud “could be significant” in the deferred action program.
Deferred Action advocates dismiss fraud claims
Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy and policy for United We Dream, dismissed CIS’s fraud claims, saying that she finds it is “very hard for people to want to prove something that is false or fraudulent in order for them to receive approval.”
Praeli’s group has held workshops all throughout the country to help Dreamers apply for the Deferred Action program. She added that USCIS has been “very diligent” in the way it handles requests for Deferred Action.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, also dismissed CIS’s claims about fraud occurring in the application process for Deferred Action.
“I don’t take their work very seriously,” he told VOXXI of CIS.
Sharry added that the application process for DACA serves as a “good test-run” for a much larger scale immigration program, such as the one being proposed under the bipartisan immigration reform bill crafted by the “Gang of Eight.”
“We’re pretty confident it’s going to be a program with integrity and also a good program that includes most of the 11 million [undocumented immigrants],” he told VOXXI of the path to legalization under the immigration reform bill.