DACA and Asian-American DREAMers: Bridging the Gap

A recent study by the Migration Policy Institute revealed some surprising information about the variation in application rates by nationality for immigrants who have applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The study found that only 23% of eligible young Filipino DREAMers have applied for DACA.
The study found that only 23% of eligible young Filipino DREAMers have applied for DACA.

DACA, which President Obama first announced in the summer of 2012, is an executive order to address the dead-end that many young adult undocumented immigrants face in the United States as they finish school and are then unable to work.  For years, these DREAMERs and their allies have sought immigration reform that would provide them a path to citizenship.

DACA is not a long-term solution and does not lead to citizenship, but it enables eligible immigrants to receive authorization for work (renewable after two years), to obtain a driver’s license, and to not be deported.  Some of the basic requirements of DACA are that an immigrant must have arrived in the United States as a child, be less than 31 as of June 2012, be at least 15, have continuously resided in the U.S. since 2007, had no legal status as of June 2012, be in school or received an equivalent education, and not committed felonies.

In total, about 64% (or 750,000) of the 1,165,000 immigrants immediately eligible for DACA have applied.  However, the application rate varies tremendously by country of origin.  Leading the way are Salvadorans and Argentinians (both at 91%) followed by Mexicans (82%) and Hondurans (81%).  In contrast, only 20% of eligible South Koreans and Indians have applied, along with just 23% of Nicaraguans and Filipinos, 28% of Pakistanis, and 33% of Nigerians.

A young Asian-American DREAMer
A young Asian-American DREAMer.

These are significant differences.  Why the gap?  MPI offers some possible explanations for these variations.  For example, there may be a greater incentive for Latinos to apply based on a higher likelihood of deportation.  Or it may be that the support by consular offices of Central and South American countries to assist with the application has enabled more immigrants from those countries to apply for DACA.  MPI also suggests that Asians haven’t applied at as high a rate because they face more of a stigma if they apply and because Asians that have overstayed visas, rather than entered the U.S. without inspection, have other possible legal avenues than DACA.

These numbers are a reminder for organizations like Justice for Our Neighbors, which helped nearly 600 immigrants apply for DACA in the first half of 2015, that we must work harder to connect with immigrants from the entire world.  We need to forge stronger partnerships with immigrant communities that either do not know how to apply, may be misinformed, or who still do not know about the DACA program.

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