Originally published by VOX
In September, when the Trump administration announced that it was winding down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protected young unauthorized immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation, tens of thousands of immigrants were waiting to hear back about DACA applications they’d already submitted.
Many of them are still waiting.
According to new statistics from US Citizenship and Immigration Services, at least 20,000 immigrants who applied for the program before the September announcement are still awaiting approval for their applications.
That means that 20,000 or so immigrants have had to live in fear of deportation, and haven’t been able to get a job in the US legally, since September 5, 2017 — when the administration announced no new DACA applications would be accepted — even though they applied for DACA before the cutoff.
The precise number isn’t entirely clear. One USCIS report says there were “approximately” 21,950 initial DACA requests pending as of the end of January; another says there were 25,513. (USCIS was asked for comment Wednesday but was unable to provide it before publication.)
But what’s clear is that the overwhelming majority of those immigrants submitted their applications back when DACA was still in full effect — and have been waiting anxiously to hear back from the government as the program’s future has been called into doubt.
The Trump administration has focused on renewing work permits for immigrants currently protected under DACA
The new statistics show the Trump administration has actually been working hard on DACA — but only for immigrants who already had it.
The administration has sent out tens of thousands of new two-year work permits to DACA recipients who applied for renewals, either before the September 5 announcement or before October 5, when the administration stopped accepting renewals for immigrants whose work permits expired before March 5. DACA recipients whose work permits are set to expire after March 5 weren’t allowed to apply for renewals in the fall but are now able to do so thanks to a January federal court ruling.
At the end of September, there were 82,612 applications for renewal pending at USCIS offices; as of January 31, there were 29,606.
Furthermore, many of the renewal applications pending on January 31 had been sent in the few weeks leading up to that date — likely spurred by the January ruling by a federal judgein California that blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to wind down the program by ordering USCIS to start accepting applications for DACA renewal again. The administration is currently appealing that order, and the Supreme Court recently announced that it won’t hear the case until the appeals court has weighed in.
What these new figures show is that the Trump administration hasn’t been nearly as aggressive in working through the backlog of first-time DACA applications as it has been for people who already have DACA. The first-time DACA backlog has shrunk from 35,000 to 25,000 since the end of September — but that gets less impressive when you consider that only 142 new requests were sent in during that time (and it’s not clear whether first-time DACA applications submitted after the September 5 deadline will even be considered for approval).
Some of the delay in approving first-time applications makes sense — when DACA was in full effect, the government said that processing should take between 90 and 120 days. The Trump administration hasn’t said anything to indicate that isn’t the expectation anymore.
But it’s been 177 days since September 5, 2017. That’s 177 days that immigrants haven’t been able to get a job in the US legally because the work permits they applied for before September haven’t come through. It’s 177 days that they’ve had to worry about being stopped by police and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Trump administration is complying with the court order to allow the nearly 700,000 immigrants currently covered by DACA to extend their protections for two more years. But more than 20,000 immigrants are still waiting for DACA to start.