Protesters supporting DACA outside the U.S. Supreme Court, Nov. 12, 2019 | Robin Bravender
Following a favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, undocumented immigrants rushed to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, which protects from deportation people who arrived in the United States as minors. They were met with months-long agency delays and backlogs, all happening amid a pandemic.
And now their applications are indefinitely paused.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen out of Texas ruled the Obama era program illegal and blocked the Biden administration from accepting new applications. President Joe Biden quickly vowed to appeal the decision, but in the meantime the estimated 80,000 undocumented immigrants colloquially known as Dreamers remain vulnerable and frustrated at yet another hurdle in their fight for citizenship.
On Sunday, within 48 hours of Hanen’s ruling, reports emerged that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had mass cancelled biometrics appointments scheduled for people whose initial applications had been received by the agency and were set for processing. These mandatory appointments are where the federal agency collects the fingerprints, photographs and signatures of applicants.
In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled favorably for DACA by overturning a former Trump administration attempt to dismantle the program, finding the process the then-president used was flawed. USCIS had stopped accepting DACA applications in 2017 and were widely expected to begin accepting applications again.
Immigration groups wanted to immediately mobilize to help DACA-eligible people apply because they knew the program was still at risk. But the agency appeared to drag its feet. Reports emerged nationwide that USCIS was confirming receipt of first-time applications but not processing them.
Immigration advocates sued to restart the process. They won in late 2020.
Still, delays were rampant.
In June 2021, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and others sent a letter to the acting director of USCIS questioning the long average processing time for new DACA requests, which at the time was between four and nine months. DACA renewals were similarly being processed “at an unacceptably slow rate” — up to a full year, compared to the stated timeline of 120 days.
According to USCIS data, nearly 50,000 initial applications for DACA were received between January and March of 2021. Only 763 were approved.
That application pool has since grown to 80,000. Only 1,900 had been approved.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban refugee appointed by President Joe Biden, issued a statement Saturday calling the Texas ruling disappointing and said “it will not derail our efforts to protect Dreamers.” The secretary said renewals for the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients will continue, as that is allowed in Hanen’s decision.
In his statement, Mayorkas noted that “only the passage of legislation will give full protection and a path to citizenship to DACA recipients.”
According to USCIS data, there are 5,030 DACA recipients in Nevada.
A version of this story first ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Nevada Current. Read the story here.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.