A year after the Obama administration granted a reprieve from
deportation to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought illegally into
the United States as children, less than a third have taken advantage of the
Concerned about exposing themselves and family members to government scrutiny or raising the money needed to apply and hire a lawyer, 1.2 million of the country's 1.8 million potentially eligible young migrants have chosen to remain in the shadows, according to statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Immigration Policy Center.
And in Texas, those numbers are even lower, with just more than 28 percent of the nearly 300,000 eligible youths applying.
But those who have sought government recognition through the controversial program -- known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA -- say it has inspired a newfound sense of civic responsibility and opened doors they'd long thought permanently closed to them.
"The future has never looked so clear to me before," said Fernando Alquicira, a 25-year-old medical student who, thanks to deferred action, has begun applying for hospital residency programs. "That was something I had given up on in the past."
As Congress considers the most wide-ranging change to the nation's immigration laws in decades, the impact of the deferred action program offers a glimpse of how a broader overhaul could transform the lives of the other 9 million immigrants believed to be in the country illegally, while also exposing potential barriers that could keep many from pursuing legal status.
To qualify, immigrants must prove they arrived in the country before age 16 and have lived here continuously since then. Applicants must be enrolled in high school, college or military service or have completed one of the three.
The deferred action program does not grant legal residency, but accepted youths receive a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation, temporary authorization to work in the country and, in many states, the ability to apply for drivers' licenses.
But the program has drawn ire from critics, who labeled the president's plan -- announced at the height of his re-election campaign last year -- as an unlawful and naked play for Hispanic votes.
Several immigrants interviewed last week said they had held off or chosen not to apply for fear such debate could sink the policy's prospects for permanence and leave them vulnerable to deportation in the future.
Recent events have given them more cause for concern.
The Republican-held House of Representatives voted to shut down the program earlier this month in a party-line vote to an amendment to a Homeland Security spending bill.
The Senate hasn't approved its version of the spending bill yet, but any move to kill the program is likely to fail in the Democratic-controlled chamber.
And in April, a federal judge in Dallas suggested the president had overstepped his authority in implementing the plan without congressional approval -- though Judge Reed O'Connor noted in a provisional ruling that he was unsure he had jurisdiction to block the program.
"People are fearful that this isn't real -- that it might go away," said Paul Esquivel, a San Antonio immigration attorney. "They worry if I have given them
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