Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s announcement of the policy directive known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows undocumented youth who meet certain requirements to request deferred action for deportation and apply for work authorization.
Although DACA does not award legal status, it is the first time since 1986 that the U.S. has allowed some undocumented residents to come out of the shadows and integrate more fully with the country’s economy by giving them an opportunity to legally work and, in some states, drive. It is also the first time that researchers can quantify the number of undocumented people without having to use estimates. Nationally, new survey results show that those approved for DACA are already benefitting: 61 percent have obtained a new job, 61 percent have obtained driver’s license, and 54 percent have opened their first bank account, and 38 percent have obtained their first credit card.
So how have the lives of New Jerseyans eligible for deferred action changed – and why are some not applying?
New Jersey has the fifth-highest immigration population in the nation and ranks third (after California and New York) for the highest proportion of foreign-born residents. But when it comes to DACA, the Garden State has only the eighth-highest number of eligible and potentially eligible youth and the seventh-highest number of immediately eligible youth (those between 15 and 30 years old).
Of the estimated 28,464 New Jerseyans who are immediately eligible, over half – 16,055 – have applied for DACA through July 31. Of those who have applied, eight in 10 (12,880) have had their applications approved. Of the eight states with the highest number of immediate DACA beneficiaries, New Jersey’s application rate is fifth highest and its rate of approved applications is third highest. (This data clearly shows that New Jersey’s undocumented youth are eager to grasp the opportunities they need to succeed in the U.S.; New Jersey lawmakers should expand their opportunities by joining 15 other states in offering these young people in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.)
Nationwide, the number of applicants has decreased from a monthly high of 116,223 in October 2012 to a low of 16,712 in July. In New Jersey, the same holds true, and applications have slowed significantly, with only 323 residents applying for DACA in July. The decrease in applications makes sense, as there is a limited pool of eligible residents with the means to apply. Those who were able to apply at the beginning likely had resources available – from money for the application or an attorney to the ability to have documentation together – while others with fewer resources will continue to have to wait, either to shore up their finances, go back to school or get their documentation ready. The decrease could also be a result of advocates focusing more this year on comprehensive immigration reform than DACA outreach. As with any new policy, it will take some time for researchers to figure out the story behind the numbers.
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