More than a year after the Obama administration implemented a program to let young illegal immigrants stay in the country for at least two years, it is still encountering troubles with enrollment.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,
which started in August 2012, prevents many undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 and 32 from being deported and allows them to work legally for two years, after which they can renew their status.
But the number of applications has significantly dwindled in recent months—only about half of the 1.1 million who could be eligible have applied—even in states with high immigrant populations, reports The New York Times.
While 74 percent of those eligible in North Carolina and 63 percent of those eligible in Georgia had signed up, the rate was 34 percent in New York and 35 percent in Florida, according to the newspaper.
A study published by the Migration Policy Institute
in August found that the participation rate also varies by nationality; it was 66 percent among Mexicans, 59 percent among Hondurans and 55 percent among Brazilians, but only 16 percent among Filipinos, 14 percent among Dominicans and less than 9 percent among Chinese.
Analysts have attributed some of the regional differences to factors such as the enforcement of immigration laws and access to public transportation.
Applicants must also meet certain conditions, including proof they are enrolled in school, have a high school diploma or the equivalent, or have been honorably discharged from the military.
One of the strongest attempts to find those who are eligible is being made in New York City, where a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups, with $18 million in funding from the City Council, has launched a major outreach effort.
"This came about because we were all disappointed with the uptake," Jeanne Mullgrav, commissioner for the Department of Youth and Community Services, which is overseeing the project, told the Times.
Those who are on the ground have their work cut out for them. It is like "chipping away at the ice," said Susan Pan, a legal fellow at Atlas: DIY, an advocacy group, adding, "Trust is extremely critical."
But experts have also identified several other potential obstacles, including questions about what paperwork can be used to apply and a lack of resources for local organizations serving immigrants who don't speak English or Spanish, reports the Associated Press.
There are also questions about the efficacy of the application process itself. "In California, school systems were overloaded with transcript requests. People wanted copies of their leases from landlords, of their health records. Every part of society was triggered," Marielena Hincapie, head of the National Immigration Law Center, told the AP.
Although House Speaker John Boehner has said the lower chamber will not take up a comprehensive immigration bill this year, if Congress does address the question of a path to citizenship for the 11 million people already living in the country illegally, the deferred action program could offer some lessons.
"Getting a glimpse into the future is pretty daunting," Michael Petrucelli, a former acting director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the AP.
"It's a great reason to look at whether you have effective processes in place now," he added.
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