Study Offers a Picture of Young Immigrants Seeking a Reprieve From Deportation
By KIRK SEMPLE
August 14, 2013
A new study by the Brookings Institution presents what the group calls “an emerging portrait” of young immigrants who have sought a temporary reprieve from deportation under a year-old program that is one of President Obama’s signature immigration initiatives.
The study shows that the population of applicants, who must be between 15 and 30 years old, is heavily skewed toward the younger end of that spectrum: most were under 21 and more than a third were younger than 19.
In addition, two out of every three applicants for the program, known as deferred action, were under 11 when they arrived in the United States and almost one-third were 5 or younger, said the study, which will be released on Wednesday. Nearly three-quarters of the applicants have been here for at least a decade.
Immigrants’ advocates have long argued that many young unauthorized immigrants should be granted an expedited path to legal status because they were brought to the United States as young children through no fault of their own and, having grown up in the country, were essentially American in all but legal status. The Brookings findings, the first of their kind, may well be used to bolster this case.
“If we think about what they’ve done in their lives and how they’ve spent their time in this country, the fact is that they’ve been part of the American school system,” said Audrey Singer, co-author of the report and a senior fellow at Brookings, a nonpartisan research organization. “This is one of the big things that makes them American.”
More than 557,400 immigrants had applied for deferred action as of the end of June, according to the latest government figures, and nearly 400,600 of those — or about 72 percent — have been accepted, with the vast majority of the remaining applications still under review.
The Brookings study was based on a review of applications obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Homeland Security Department. The data covers the period from Aug. 15, 2012 — the first day applications were accepted — to March 22, 2013, and includes the first 465,509 applications received by the department.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the division of the Homeland Security Department that has been processing the applications, has released monthly data about the program, including the number of applicants and recipients; states of residence; and the countries from which the largest subpopulations of applicants come. But the Brookings study offers deeper statistical insight, including applicants’ geographic distribution, age, gender and year of arrival in the United States.
The applicants came from some 192 countries, Brookings found. About three-quarters were born in Mexico, and the top 25 countries account for more than 96 percent of all applicants, the study said.
The report also noted that only 4 percent of applicants were Asian, fewer than expected, the authors said. China, for instance, does not appear among the 25 countries with the largest number of immigrants who have applied for the reprieve.
The applications have come from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, Ms. Singer said. Most applicants, however, live in states with large foreign-born populations, including California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida. But New Jersey, which has the fifth-largest immigrant population in the country, ranks in ninth place for applications, behind North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia, the study said.
The volume of applications was at its highest in the early months of the program, peaking at about 116,200 in October, according to government statistics. Since then, the number of applicants has dropped sharply, dipping to a low of about 18,300 in June.
Ms. Singer and her co-author, Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, a research analyst, offer several likely reasons for this tapering. Applicants with the most straightforward cases — including younger people enrolled in school, recently graduated, or living with their parents — have an easier time showing that they have continuously resided in the United States since June 2007, one of the criteria for approval, and therefore may have applied earlier, the authors wrote.
In addition, young people “have more support than their older counterparts through nonprofit organizations,” particularly those that are working with high schools and colleges, the study said. “Older applicants, especially those living independently from parents, and those not enrolled in school, may have a harder time documenting that they have been living in the United States continuously since 2007.”