WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security unveiled the application Tuesday for its new deferred deportation program and said it will begin accepting applications Wednesday.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday that his agency was “extremely pleased and proud” to begin the initiative, which was announced by the Obama administration in June.
But critics of the program, which could apply to as many as 1.76 million illegal immigrants in this country, have called it little more than “an amnesty that Congress never authorized.”
The program gives eligible illegal immigrants a two-year, renewable deferral from deportation. Applicants can also receive work authorization under the program.
Beginning Wednesday, individuals who think they qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – people under 31 who were brought here illegally as children, among other requirements – can download the application from the USCIS website.
Mayorkas emphasized that the program would not serve as a “pathway to permanent residence.”
The application costs $465, which is used to fund the program and covers the cost of processing the requests and the background checks, he said. It also goes toward paying for the work permit authorization.
Of the 1.76 million individuals who could qualify for the program now or in the future, according to the Migration Policy Institute, 80,000 are in Arizona. That is the sixth-highest number among states, the institute said.
A senior Homeland Security official on a Tuesday conference call to unveil the application said USCIS has recently hired additional workers to prepare for a “high number” of applicants and ensure that the process is “efficient.” The agency is committed to minimizing “any potential impact on other lines of businesses that are conducted by USCIS,” the official said.
But critics like Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the initiative could open the country up to fraud.
“There are no safeguards in place,” he said. “People are going to take advantage of this.”
The senior official on the conference call insisted there are a “number of measures in place” to screen for fraud. Applicants will be scheduled for a biometrics evaluation and subject to background checks against several databases, he said, and they will have to provide medical, financial, school and other records to prove that they meet the requirements.
Applicants caught lying could be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation and could face criminal prosecution, the official said.
The applications will be processed in four centers located in Vermont, Nebraska, California and Texas, the DHS official said.
Mayorkas was not able to say last week how long it might take to process an application, saying that it will depend on the volume and pace of the applications.