Adjudicating more than 1.2 million DACA applications was subsidized by applicants for other immigration benefits at a cost of $316.5 million over the last three years, according to federal statistics.
Most immigration benefits applicants pay for the application status they are seeking plus fees for fingerprinting and a work permit, but the Obama administration only charged DACA — the acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — applicants for work permits and fingerprints, leaving the cost of adjudicating their eligibility to be paid in a surcharge on legal immigrants and visa applicants, the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. said in a news release.
That portion amounted to $316.5 million for 2015 through 2017 at $446 apiece for 230,313 initial applications and $216 each for 989,548 renewals, the center said.
Those figures were released by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — USCIS — on Oct. 5, the center said.
The center is a think tank that advocates lower levels of immigration.
“USCIS is funded almost entirely by the fees it collects from applicants and their sponsors. It is required by law to set fees at a level fully covering the cost of adjudicating applications,” said Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies for the center.
Before DACA, the only exemptions were for refugees, asylum seekers and visas for victims of human trafficking and other crimes, Vaughn said. The cost is picked up by a 10-percent surcharge on applicants for other programs.
Those other applicants “were penalized twice,” said Matt Sussis, a center spokesman, in that they not only paid the surcharge but had to wait longer for their applications to be processed because DACA applications were prioritized ahead of family and naturalization applications.
“These delays caused hardships to thousands of legal immigrants and their sponsors,” Vaughn said.
If Congress creates a legalization program for DACA recipients, it is only fair they pay full costs of their own adjudication and a surcharge that could fund enforcement and restitution, she said.
Surcharge funds also could be used for victims of crimes by DACA beneficiaries such as the victims in a recent fishing boat attack off Nantucket, Mass., in which a DACA beneficiary has been charged, she said.
“Further, it is estimated that at least half of the people with DACA were working illegally before obtaining their work permit. We can assume that some of them committed identity theft or fraud in order to do so,” Vaughn said.
“DACA applicants and renewals should be required to disclose all identities they have used and be required to pay a surcharge that would be used to create a restitution fund for victims of identity fraud and other crimes committed by DACA beneficiaries,” she said.
DACA is a two-year renewable deferral of deportation with work authorization granted to children of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. under 15 years of age. It was granted by executive order by President Barack Obama in 2012. In November 2014, Obama expanded DACA to more people and to their parents by executive order that was struck down in courts and rescinded by President Trump in June of 2017. That September, Trump announced plans to phase out the original program effective in March 2018.
Congress tried but failed to address the program. Federal courts put the phase-out on hold and ordered DACA renewals to continue. On Aug. 31, 2018, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanan ruled DACA is likely unconstitutional but allowed the program to continue while litigation proceeds.