'Startlingly' low number of Utah immigrants apply for deferred action
Only 745 people in Utah have applied for deferred action and temporary work permits under President Barack Obama's directive aimed at illegal immigrants brought to the United States as young children.
The number, which was brought up by attorney Tim Wheelwright at the Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration meeting Wednesday, was considered startlingly low given there could be thousands eligible in Utah.
"I think the response has been pretty tepid," Wheelwright said. "I don't think it's been anywhere near the response the government expected or what observers expected."
The deferred action ordered by Obama in August allows illegal immigrants between the ages of 16 and 30 and who are attending school and don't have a criminal record to avoid deportation and obtain a work permit that is good for two years.
The application process costs $465.
The permit must be renewed and is also subject to revocation if it is discovered the illegal immigrant isn't actively working toward those educational goals.
"It's a discretionary action," immigration attorney Barbara Melendez said.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 82,361 applications have been taken through Sept. 15. USCIS data shows Utah's 745 applicants ranking 19th among states just ahead of Tennessee at 731 and just behind Washington with 898.
Neighboring states Colorado and Nevada had 905 and 1,003 respectively.
Luis Garza, executive director of Communities United in Salt Lake City, said the small number of applicants is largely related to the cost of the application and uncertainty surrounding the presidential election.
"They see it as temporary relief and there are questions about what will happen after the election," Garza said. "We don't know who the next president will be, and people are worried about that."
Wheelwright, who is a member of the commission, said his firm has processed more than 400 applications for the deferred action and work permits and that they got the first approval this week. He said they're telling clients it could take as long as three to six months to process the applications.
The 27-member commission, which has met once a month for most of the year, has been looking for hard data on the issue of illegal immigration in an attempt to guide lawmakers on legislation as the 2013 session draws near.
It has also tried to keep up on developments regarding Utah's controversial enforcement-only immigration law and the guest worker law which isn't set to take effect until July.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said the enforcement-only law, HB497, has been briefed with both sides filing arguments and they are now awaiting either a date for U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups to order a hearing or to rule from the bench.
HB497 was modeled after Arizona's SB1070 and requires local police to check legal status on felony and Class A misdemeanor stops. However, it gives police discretion to check status on Class B and C misdemeanors.
The law was only in effect for a few hours when attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the National Immigration Law Center successfully got Waddoups to issue a temporary restraining order in May 2011.
"We're probably on the longest TRO I've ever seen," Shurtleff said.
Waddoups had requested additional briefing on the case after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld provisions of SB1070 including the police officer's reasonable attempt to verify status if stopped, detained or arrested.
Deferred action for childhood arrivals
For more information on the deferment program, go to http://www.uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals.