CBS News reports that the Biden administration has assigned more U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to adjudicate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) paperwork, after lawmakers and advocates raised alarms about egregious processing waits and backlogs, resulting in a low number of first-time applicants and current beneficiaries falling out of status.
Acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud acknowledged the delays in a letter responding to Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, claiming “that several factors have caused some DACA requests to be processed outside our stated processing time goals,” CBS News reported. USCIS said it was also expediting biometrics gathering. One applicant told CBS News last month that he’d applied for DACA in February but had yet to be contacted for this appointment.
That June report said that while 50,000 young immigrants submitted first-time DACA applications in the months following the program’s reopening last December, only about 1.5% of those applications, “fewer than 800,” had so far been approved by USCIS. “By the end of June, the backlog of pending first-time DACA applications had jumped to over 81,000 petitions, a 48% increase from late March,” CBS News now reports.
Meanwhile, renewal documents have “continue to be processed at an unacceptably slow rate, with certain applications taking an estimated full year to process,” Cortez Masto and a number of her Senate colleagues said in their letter to the Biden administration last month. “These processing times are occurring despite USCIS’s stated goal of processing DACA renewal requests within 120 days.”
The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) on Monday revealed that its board chair had been among the beneficiaries to lose status—meaning permission to work legally, any health insurance tied to that job, and protection from deportation—due to the agency’s delays. “@USCIS failed to process the #DACA renewal application of our Board Chair, Ju Hong, in time,” the organization tweeted. “Ju’s DACA status expired and overnight he lost his job with the Alameda County government.”
“USCIS said it fixed a ‘technical problem’ that had delayed the validation of government-issued ‘alien registration numbers’ for DACA applicants,” CBS News reported. The report said that while 11,000 people had appointments to complete their biometrics as part of the application process, more than 37,000 were still waiting to receive theirs. "Biometric appointments were limited for a period of time due to necessary COVID-19 protocols," the report said USCIS informed Congressional members. "However, those scheduling issues have largely been overcome and USCIS expects significantly more DACA initial requests to be completed as biometrics collections increase."
There’s an urgency to get young immigrants quickly enrolled not just because it’s essential to their livelihoods, but also because the program remains in danger. While we won at the Supreme Court last year, we’re also waiting for an anti-immigrant federal judge in Texas to issue his ruling on a case brought forward by the very corrupt state Attorney General Ken Paxton (who you’d think already has enough to worry about). Let’s defend DACA, but let’s also pass permanent relief in the form of a pathway to citizenship. No one should have to live their lives from court decision to court decision.
"I am pleased to see USCIS has taken action following our call to address DACA delays, and I am hopeful that their recent efforts, including training more officers on initial DACA applications, will help address the challenges facing our Dreamers," Cortez Masto told CBS News. "Moving forward, USCIS must continue to prioritize speeding up their application processing, so Dreamers are not suffering the consequences of delays."