WASHINGTON — Immigration authorities are bracing for a deluge of applications starting today when more than 1.2 million young illegal immigrants who were brought to America as children can seek to legally stay and work in the country under President Barack Obama's most ambitious immigration initiative.
Even before the first request is filed, critics and advocates alike warned of potential budget shortfalls and a logjam of paperwork that could mar the program, delay processing and facilitate fraud.
Advocacy groups have planned public celebrations, legal aid seminars and other events in major cities to herald a plan that has sparked rejoicing and relief in immigrant communities, and anger among Republicans who view it as a White House ploy for Latino support in an election year and a backdoor amnesty that usurps congressional authority.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will review the applications, is expecting about 1.2 million applications on top of the 6 million applications it normally adjudicates for citizenship, residency and work visas every year, officials said. That's up from 800,000 expected when Obama announced the plan in June.
Advocacy groups estimate that more than 1.7 million teens and young adults may be eligible, although it's unknown how many will apply or how quickly. Those granted approval will be given a two-year deferral from deportation and legal authorization to work.
The program offers far fewer benefits than the Dream Act, which failed to win approval in Congress in 2010. That legislation, which Obama supported, would have granted legal status to undocumented youths.
"Deferred action does not provide lawful status or a pathway to permanent residence or citizenship," Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in a conference call with reporters. He said each application "will be examined for potential fraud and reviewed on a case-by-case basis."
Mayorkas said application forms would be posted at www.USCIS.gov/childhoodarrivals, and can be submitted starting today. He said each application would likely take several months to process, and its progress can be followed online.
Obama administration officials say the program will aid law enforcement by allowing authorities to focus on deporting convicted criminals, instead of students and other noncriminals with strong family ties in the United States.
Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement expelled nearly 400,000 people, a record tally. More than half had criminal records, or were repeat violators of immigration law.