WASHINGTON -- In just over a month, the federal government has received more than 80,000 applications from young illegal immigrants to have their deportations delayed.
Under the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program announced by President Obama in June, up to 1.7 million illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and maintained a clean record can receive two-year deferments on any deportation proceedings. They also can get work permits but would not be eligible to become legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
The first lucky few were notified of their approvals this week. On Friday, Department of Homeland Security officials released the latest statistics for the program:
More than 82,000 applications have been received.
More than 16,000 applications have been screened and are ready for a full review.
29 have been approved or denied.
DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said the agency is conducting thorough reviews of each case, including criminal background checks, collecting fingerprints and verifying school records in each application.
The program has been criticized by some, including House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, for inviting fraud by moving too quickly, for its timing -- starting just three months before the November elections -- and for granting work permits to illegal immigrants when unemployment remains high in the USA.
Obama administration officials have defended the program as "the right thing to do." Obama has pushed for Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would grant legal status to young illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children. When that failed, Obama used his executive authority to start the deferred deportation program for that population of young illegal immigrants, known as DREAMers.
"Our nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner but they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case," Boogaard said. "These young people do not represent a risk to public safety or security."
Even though the first few applications were approved quickly, DHS officials warn that final determinations likely will take four to six months.
With more people applying and asking more questions, Citizenship and Immigration Services updated its website Friday with more information about the program and how to apply.