The Deferred Action Process Is Working, But Mitt Romney Would Stop Its Success

Each day, about 3,000 young undocumented immigrants are applying for deferred action, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explained last week. As of October 10, that added up to almost 180,000 eligible youth who were applying for temporary deportation deferrals since the policy, which President Obama announced in June, went into effect on August 15, and Napolitano said the number of applications is up to 200,000.

So far, about 4,500 undocumented immigrants have completed the process and received temporary work permits thanks to Obama’s directive, and more than 150,000 have been scheduled for biometric interviews. But it is a long, slow process that can take up to four to six months. Here’s what the process looks like:

With about 950,000 people eligible to apply immediately, almost 19 percent of applications have been received and accepted for processing by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the first two months of DACA. The last time that this many undocumented immigrants could apply for deportation deferrals was in 1986, when then-President Ronald Reagan authorized the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), a successful program that was able to legalize a large number of undocumented immigrants who were eligible in a short time period. Even with its success, only about 13 percent of potential IRCA applicants had filed their paperwork in the first three months of the program, fewer than the first two months’ worth of deferred action applications.

But if Mitt Romney is elected, the entire process for deferred action would stop. While the Republican presidential candidate has said he would not take away the temporary deportation deferrals from any undocumented immigrant who had already been approved, Romney said he would end the program to grant deportation deferrals to young undocumented immigrants who qualify. Some DREAMers say they are concerned about applying for a program that could disappear depending on who wins the presidential race on November 6.

With 950,000 potential applicants and a wait time for applications to be processed that can lasts for months — on top of the amount of time it takes for undocumented immigrants to gather the right documents and fill out the paperwork — it’s likely that tens of thousands of these young adults will still be in limbo by January when the next president is inaugurated. And if it’s Romney, it will be the end of a program that could give up to 1.7 million young undocumented immigrants temporary legal status while lawmakers continue to discuss a long-term immigration solution.

ThinkProgress blogger Adam Peck and Patrick Oakford, a research assistant at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, contributed to this report.