SALT LAKE CITY — More than 5,400 people in Utah have applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals since August 2012, according to new federal statistics.
Utah had the 17th highest number of accepted applications nationwide, with 3,413 being approved through March, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an Obama administration initiative that grants qualifying teens and young adults legal authorization to work if they came to the United States from other countries as children.
DACA does not confer legal immigration status, but it means authorities will defer removal actions for a two-year period. Under current guidelines, applications can be renewed without limit.
Mark Alvarez, a Spanish language radio talk show host and attorney, said some estimates suggested 8,500 to 13,000 young people in Utah could be eligible for DACA.
"Fifty-five hundred did surprise me a little bit. But I think there was a lot of education, a lot of information distributed in Latino and Asian communities about the possibility of deferred action," he said.
The pool of people eligible for DACA has ranged from young people who applied immediately, fence-sitters who waited until after the presidential election, to others who have needed to save up the $465 application fee.
"Now it might be a matter of some people wanting to wait for broader immigration reform to pass," Alvarez said.
Salt Lake City immigration attorney Roger Tsai said the applicant numbers seem low nationally and in Utah considering estimates that there are more than 11 million people living in the United States without authorization.
"It doesn't seem like everybody who could apply has applied. That could be for a variety of reasons," Tsai said.
Early on, some applicants told local attorneys they were uncomfortable revealing a lot of personal information to immigration authorities. But Tsai said that concern has waned.
"I don't know if so much it's out of fear of coming out of the shadows, but what it gets them. In the short term, it's purely a two-year work permit. Maybe they don't feel it's worth going through the cost of this process," he said.
Alvarez said he has advised potential applicants, since the program was announced last summer, to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.
"I think the principal benefit of DACA is the work permit. There's another benefit, though, the clock on unlawful presence stops when somebody has DACA. That might be a greater benefit for some," Alvarez said.
Nationwide, the federal government accepted about 472,000 applications between August and March. California, Texas and New York had the largest numbers of applicants.
National data show applications peaked in October at 112,660. But the numbers have fallen since, leveling out at about 30,000 for February and March.
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