An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is seen in the background as people at a restaurant in Phoenix watch a television broadcast of President Barack Obama speak about immigration reform Jan. 29 in Las Vegas. Obama outlined his ideas for comprehensive reform , seeking to build momentum for a new bipartisan plan to offer a pathway to citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants. (CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters)
An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is seen in the background as people at a restaurant in Phoenix watch a television broadcast of President Barack Obama speak about immigration reform Jan. 29 in Las Vegas. Obama outlined his ideas for comprehensive reform , seeking to build momentum for a new bipartisan plan to offer a pathway to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. (CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — As the six-month mark approaches in an administration program to defer deportation for some young undocumented immigrants, the pace of applications has slowed, but more than 150,000 people have been approved for the status that comes with a work permit and a Social Security number.

Meanwhile, states and the federal government are still settling details of exactly what it means to be approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Immigrants, or DACA, when it comes to getting driver’s licenses, in-state resident tuition rates, some kinds of jobs and other issues.

One website with information about the program, United We Dream, calls those who are approved “DACA-mented.”

The reality is that recipients of deferred action are not in an immigration status that leads to permanent legal residency. In announcing the program June 15, President Barack Obama called the effort “a temporary, stopgap measure” until a more permanent solution to the problems of the immigration system can be passed by Congress.

In Sanford, N.C., LaSalette Father Robert Ippolito, pastor at St. Stephen the First Martyr Church, has processed 574 applications for DACA for his parishioners and others in central North Carolina. So far, he told Catholic News Service, none of the applications has been turned down, “although I may be on the verge of my first one.”

Some of his applications are processed and approved within a month, others are taking up to three months. The explanation given by the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, that each application would be considered on its own merits is certainly proving to be true, he said.

DACA is open to those who came to the United States before their 16th birthdays and are not yet 31, have been in the U.S. at least five years, have clean criminal records, are either in school or have completed at least high school and who meet other criteria.

Approval means the government will not pursue deportation unless the individual breaks the law. It comes with a work permit and a Social Security card and is issued on a two-year, renewable basis. Proof of many things must be submitted with applications, but the type of documentation that qualifies as proof is open to interpretation.

Father Ippolito told of submitting nearly identical applications for three siblings, all in high school. Two applications were quickly approved, while the third was kicked back to him. It had a notation that the documentation was insufficient to prove the youth was physically present in the United States when DACA was announced. Since the school transcript that met that requirement in two of the siblings’ cases was inadequate in that case, Father Ippolito said he submitted a letter from one of the student’s teachers attesting that he’d been in school on the last day of classes in June.

“When they say cases are adjudicated on an individual basis,” he said, “they really mean it.”

Now that he’s learned generally what types of documents are being accepted, Father Ippolito said the process has gone very well.

“I’m very pleased with the response of USCIS,” he said.

Still evolving is the answer to whether DACA recipients are eligible to get driver’s licenses in states that require immigrants to have legal immigration status. In North Carolina, for example, DACA recipients initially were able to get licenses, then the administrator of the licensing agency stopped allowing it, pending an opinion from the state attorney general. Letters were sent to some DACA recipients who’d already been issued licenses telling them it was a mistake.

Then, a Jan 17 letter from the state attorney general’s office said DACA recipients are “legally present” in the United States and therefore eligible to apply for licenses. As of Jan. 25, the website of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles still carried only a Jan. 15 post explaining that DACA recipients could not get licenses and that “once the AG’s office issues an opinion, a determination about issuing licenses to DACA applicants will be made.”

The National Immigration Law Center lists just three states — Arizona, Michigan and Nebraska — which have said DACA recipients are not eligible for driver’s licenses. Lawsuits are challenging the policies in Arizona and Michigan, which created special rules for DACA recipients, the center reported.

On Jan. 18, USCIS issued updated guidelines for DACA, clarifying the distinction between “unlawful presence” and “lawful status,” in a way that immigrant advocates are interpreting to mean some of the state objections to granting licenses on the basis of the definition of legal status are moot.

Requirements for the type of identification required for licenses also vary from state to state. A nonprofit organization, Protectors of the Dream, which has a grant program for DACA application fees and carries information about the program on its web site, warns Texas residents that they should begin studying for the license exam while awaiting DACA approval.

“We suggest that you get your Texas driver’s license or Texas identification card before you apply for your Social Security card because if you don’t you will not be able to complete your (license or ID application) until your Social Security card is issued,” the site explains.

Policies also vary around the country for whether colleges allow DACA recipients to obtain lower in-state tuition rates.

And in at least one state, there have been reports that approved DACA recipients run into an unexpected hurdle when they take their approval letter and work permit to the Social Security office.

In Texas, some people whose DACA applications have been approved told their attorneys that when they went to apply for their Social Security cards they were subjected to questions that seemed to suggest they were being targeted for an extra layer of scrutiny.

Houston-area attorney, Sarah Monty, who is affiliated with Protectors of the Dream, sent Catholic News Service a list of questions asked of at least one DACA recipient with whom she worked, including about when she arrived in the United States, whether she had ever worked in the U.S. before receiving a work permit and whether her parents had Social Security cards.

Monty said such questions are not normal and they might deter some eligible people from applying for Social Security cards, because they’re worried about repercussions to their families.

However, Monty said she spoke Jan. 24 to a Social Security administrator who told her this type of questioning was not the norm and that she would investigate the report. An attempt by CNS to clarify the situation with the Social Security administrator did not elicit a response.

— By Patricia Zapor Catholic News Service 

Catholic News Service, serving since 1920 as a news agency specializing in reporting religion, is the primary source of national and world news that appears in the U.S. Catholic press. It is also a leading source of news for Catholic print and broadcast media throughout the world.

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