Romney if Elected Will Honor DACA Approvals but End Program

More than 4,500 young undocumented immigrants have been approved under President Obama’s deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program as of October 10, 2012. Nearly 180,000 requests have been accepted by the USCIS for processing and more than 6,000 cases are under review.

The number of filings and approvals has jumped from last month when the agency released an update. During the program’s first month, only 82,000 requests were filed and a mere 29 cases completed.

But these numbers could still spike in the next few weeks after a recent announcement by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Mr. Romney has said that he would not cancel the two-year deferrals given to young immigrants although he plans to replace it with a more permanent solution. He had been ambiguous about his stance on the DACA program but was expected by many to put an end to it if elected in office.

This development should prompt DACA-eligible individuals who are still on the fence to submit their requests right away.

Many young immigrants, or DREAMers as they are often referred to, are holding back and waiting for the results of the November 6 elections. Because there is no deadline for filing, a lot of them have chosen to “wait and see” before applying because they do not want to be at a higher risk of deportation in case the program is not continued.

Mr. Romney declared that while he will honor the two-year deportation reprieve, he will replace the program with his own. He proposes a long-term solution to the country’s immigration problem and promises that before the approvals expire, there would be a comprehensive immigration reform plan already in place.

Mr. Romney has not clarified the specifics of his immigration reform plan but he has expressed support for legislation that would give permanent resident status to undocumented immigrants who serve in the military. Unless Mr. Romney has a change of heart, proof of student status just like in President Obama’s policy would not be enough to make DREAMers eligible for the relief.

So far, therefore, it appears that under the Romney version, many of the 1.76 million childhood arrivals otherwise eligible under President Obama’s program might not qualify for relief, unless they serve in the military.

Interestingly, in clarifying his position on DACA Mr. Romney inaccurately referred to the reprieve and the accompanying work permit as a visa. He remarked that the “two-year visa” would continue to be valid and that he was not going to take something that the young immigrants had “purchased”, most likely referring to the $465 filing fee for the deferred action request. The USCIS, immigration lawyers and various organizations have tried to make it clear that the DACA program does not grant any visa or any lawful status.

It is difficult to predict if a request filed today would be completed by January 20, 2013 when the next presidential term begins, given the processing time and the huge increase in the filings in the last month. In addition, a recent information request cloaked as a demand for transparency from two Republican lawmakers to the Department of Homeland Security might have the effect of slowing down adjudications.

Still, as the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. A reprieve from deportation, even if for only two years, is better than nothing. Mr. Romney has not outlined what his long-term solution is made up of.  And four years ago a presidential candidate also vowed to pass comprehensive immigration reform but failed to do so with the deadlock in the bipartisan Congress.