More than 10,000 illegal immigrants living in Georgia have applied for a two-year reprieve from deportation under the Obama administration’s controversial new immigration policy, public records show.
Released by the federal government last week, the records do not show how many Georgians have been approved as part of the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program.
But nationwide, 53,273 have received the reprieve since the government started taking applications on Aug. 15.
Georgia ranks ninth among states for how many have applied for the reprieve. California ranks first at 81,858, followed by Texas, 47,727, and New York, 19,320. So far, 308,935 people have applied nationwide. Most are from Mexico.
President Barack Obama announced the new policy in June, calling it a stopgap measure that will help his administration focus on deporting violent criminals while giving “a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”
In a conference call with top donors this month, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the program is among the “gifts” the Obama administration gave blacks, Hispanics and young voters, helping the president win reelection.
Meanwhile, the state of Mississippi and 10 federal immigration authorities are suing to stop the program immediately, saying it violates federal immigration laws and unconstitutionally makes an end-run around Congress. The federal government filed court papers last week, seeking to have the suit dismissed.
The program applies to young illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they turned 16, have not committed serious crimes and are in school, have graduated or are honorably discharged U.S. military veterans.
Those approved for deferred action can also receive authorization to work legally in the U.S. for two years, receive Social Security numbers and apply for Georgia driver’s licenses. The program does not give people legal status, but immigrants may reapply for deferred action and work authorization.
The program mirrors parts of the Dream Act, legislation that would give special consideration to illegal immigrants who came here as children, graduated from high school and attended college or served in the military. The bill —- which Obama backed —- failed in Congress in 2010.
Obama has vowed to push for comprehensive immigration reform early in his second term.
Maria Odom, the ombudsman for the federal agency responsible for the deferred action program – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — praised how it is working, but said her office is keeping an eye on it.
“I’m confident that USCIS is so far managing this in a really good, positive, robust way,” said Odom, who worked in the Atlanta area both as a private immigration attorney and as an assistant district counsel for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, a critic of the Obama administration’s program, is asking the government about its practice of issuing Social Security numbers to immigrants who receive deferred action. Gingrey sent the Social Security Administration a list of questions Tuesday.
He wrote that given those who receive deferred action “could be subject to deportation after two years, will they keep their Social Security numbers? If so, how will you prevent fraud or abuse, particularly given the fact that the individuals in question will have valid Social Security numbers?”
A spokesman for the federal agency indicated Thursday that his office was preparing a response for Gingrey. Federal law, the spokesman said, requires the agency to assign Social Security numbers to noncitizens who receive work authorization. But he said that does not make them eligible for “any federal or state benefit programs, including Social Security retirement, disability or survivor benefits.”