WASHINGTON — Nearly 2,800 young people from Arkansas have been granted deportation relief and given work permits under a program launched a year ago by President Barack Obama.
The administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in August 2012 to remove the threat of deportation from so-called "Dreamers" — young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children who are otherwise productive individuals.
Deferred relief had been granted to 406,327 of 537,662 applicants across the nation, including 2,760 of 3,606 applicants from Arkansas, as of July 1, according to the latest data available through the Department of Homeland Security.
"Here in Arkansas we are celebrating the one-year anniversary of deferred action. It is a wonderful program," said Mireya Reith, director of Arkansas United Community Action.
An advocate for immigration reform, Reith said she is proud of the number of applications processed in Arkansas — at a rate ranking Arkansas in the top third of states. Still, she said, there remains much to do.
An estimated 9,000 young immigrants are eligible for DACA. Some are still too young to apply but others have not been reached. Reith suspects that most are living in rural Arkansas where they do not have easy access to apply.
Still others, she said, may be hampered by costs of the application or in hiring legal counsel. The application is about $500, but for those who need legal representation the costs can skyrocket.
"We only have three nonprofits offering legal services to undocumented immigrants, so there is a huge waiting line," Reith said in a telephone interview Thursday.
In June, all four members of Arkansas’ U.S. House delegation voted with the majority in passing a measure to defund presidential orders that allow immigration enforcement officials to focus deportation efforts on illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes.
Some supporters of the amendment to a Homeland Security spending bill said the policies grant administrative amnesty to illegal immigrants. U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, at the time said changes in the law should come from Congress, not by executive order. He called for a "fair and open debate" about the policy.
Reith said Thursday the DACA anniversary serves as a reminder that Congress has yet to address the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The U.S. Senate passed legislation that would create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, boost border security and streamline the visa program. The House has yet to act.
With Congress on its August recess, Reith said her group is "actively engaged" in urging the Arkansas delegation to embrace reforms. That effort has gained momentum as Arkansas business, university and farming groups have come out in favor of reforms, she said.