Obama's immigration plan to reach far fewer than 4.7 million: Lawyers

Obama's immigration plan to reach far fewer than 4.7 million: Lawyers

US President Barack Obama's executive action easing the threat of deportation for 4.7 million undocumented immigrants is unlikely to cover many of those eligible because of practical hurdles, immigration lawyers said.

High application costs, extensive documentation requirements and lengthy waiting periods for approval sharply reduced participation in a 2012 executive action aimed at undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents as children, and the process is expected to be even more arduous this time around, the lawyers said.

Only 44 percent of the 1.2 million eligible immigrants under the 2012 order had been approved after two years, according to the Migration Policy Institute. And 55 percent of those eligible never completed the application process, according to the nonpartisan, Washington-based think tank.

A US$465 (S$604) filing fee, waiting lists of more than a year and applications requiring biometric screenings and proof of US residency dating to 2007 contributed to the low application rates then, advocates said.

Similar requirements are expected under the new order, and it could be worse this time around as the larger pool of eligible participants is likely to create bigger backlogs and deter a higher percentage of people. "We're concerned that with all the different kinds of challenges, the number of people who are eligible won't step forward," said Greg Chen, director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Obama's order, like all executive actions, does not provide additional funding that could pay for hiring more staff to process the applications, potentially prolonging the wait times.

Though application fees help fund the program, it is difficult to staff up in preparation, said a person who helped the agency get ready for the 2012 program. Adult applicants will not be able to apply until mid 2015. Even then, Chen said eligible applicants could expect to wait more than a year after filing to be approved.

Luis Perez, who coordinates legal services at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said many eligible immigrants under the 2012 program never submitted an application because they were deterred by the complicated requirements or grew frustrated by the wait and gave up.

Low-cost lawyers who could help applicants navigate the process were in high demand, Perez said. "We had thousands of people lined up the first day the application was available. But realistically we could only handle about 30 applications per day at most," Perez said.

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