When President Obama announced his executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which would give work visas to eligible undocumented youth, or Dreamers, as they’re known to many from the previous DREAM Act legislation, there was a boom in applications when they were first available in mid-August.
But throughout September and October, applications dipped and are now only rising since after election day. Dreamers and immigration lawyers say uncertainty over what would happen to the program after the election, including fear of a Mitt Romney presidency, lessened the number of applications, which are now rising post-election.
“A lot of Dreamers had doubts about applying for DACA, mostly because they didn’t know if Romney would take it away,” says Erika Andiola, 25, an activist for undocumented youth based in Arizona, who also applied for deferred action and is waiting to hear back.
Jose Peñalosa, who has been an immigration lawyer for 23 years and practices out of Phoenix, Arizona, has seen a marked increase in applications and interest in the deferred action program since the election ended.
“I’ve seen an increase in three ways,” Peñalosa says. “In my office and through the increased volume of phone calls. Secondly, with the numbers of attendees to workshops on filling out paperwork for the application and lastly with the activity and comments on Facebook and Twitter. People are waking up and saying I’m going to do this now.”
Peñalosa says he works with a group in Arizona called, “No Dream Deferred,” which has held workshops to help undocumented youth through the deferred action process every two weeks since applications began being accepted on August 15.
“At first there was a great reaction and then in September and early October it went down,” he says. “When the election heated up and after the first debate people got leery.”
Peñalosa says the prospect of a Romney win was enough to stop many applicants in their tracks but he has seen them come back and start applying again. He recalls that in the last workshop before the election there were around 50 people in attendance.
But it was a different story after the election. In the first workshop after the election on November 10 there were 100 applicants, he says, including a couple hundred waiting in line who did not have all of the proper paperwork prepared and had to schedule appointments to meet with lawyers and return at a later date.
As many as 1.7 million undocumented immigrants under 31 are eligible for the program, including 80,000 in Arizona. As of Thursday, 308,935 undocumented immigrants, or about 18 percent of the total eligible, had applied for the program, including 11,074 from Arizona, according to statistics released Friday by the Department of Homeland Security to The Arizona Republic. So far, deferred action has been granted to 53,273 undocumented immigrants, and an additional 124,572 applications are in the final stages of review, according to Homeland Security.
Astrid Silva, 24, who attends the College of Southern Nevada, applied for deferred action and is part of an organization called “Dream Big Vegas,” which works on immigration issues. She says there were other reasons besides election uncertainty and the prospect of Mitt Romney winning. Silva says some undocumented youth were also influenced by their parents’ trepidation.
“It was the parents fear, not so much the students,” Silva says. “Parents were saying, ‘I don’t know if they’re going to come and pick you up.’”
Silva adds that a conservative Latino organization in Nevada helped to fan the flames by spreading misinformation that the parents of deferred action applicants would get deported if their children applied.
Silva says financial considerations were a factor that delayed applications from families as well, many of which have more than one child who would apply. “The application is $465 and here you pay an accredited organization $75. Then it’s $28 for shipping and you need your ID as well. You also have to go to your consulate. My passport cost $106, but for many people from Central and South American countries it would cost more,” she says. That would quickly make it close to $700 per application per child for a family.
There are 20,000 eligible students in Southwest Nevada and Silva says Hermandad Mexicana, one of the accredited organizations handling applications, saw a huge increase after Obama was re-elected.
“Hermandad Mexicana saw a steady stream of applicants since the majority of [eligible] students in Nevada are based in the Las Vegas area, but the day after the election there was a big spike,” she says.