Imperial Valley DACA applicants below anticipated numbers

Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013 10:53 pm
JULIO MORALES, Staff Writer and Copy Editor
Posted on August 17, 2013

When it was implemented a year ago, an estimated 1.7 million immigrants in the country illegally were said to be eligible to benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

As of June 30, more than half a million have applied for the federal program, which removes the threat of deportation for youth who meet certain criteria.

Locally, the number of youth applying for the program has not met expectations.

“We were anticipating many, many more,” said Robert Moser, deputy director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego.

Since the Aug. 15, 2012, implementation date, the diocese has helped 20 individuals in the Valley apply, and be approved, for DACA.

That figure pales in comparison to the 208 that have been approved in the San Diego area.

While the disparity may be partly explained by the counties’ different population sizes, Moser said he was expecting more Valley immigrants to apply given its demographics.

Aside from the 20 who were approved, the El Centro Catholic Charities office has had many others inquire about deferred action, only to be determined to be ineligible prior to application process.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must have arrived stateside before the age of 16 and be under age 31 as of June 15, 2012. Eligible applicants must have also lived stateside continuously since June 15, 2007 and currently be enrolled in school, have graduated or attained a similar qualification or an honorable discharge from the armed forces, according to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services website.

Approved applicants will be granted a two-year deferral from deportation, which can then be renewed.

As of June 30, USCIS had received 557,412 applications, of which 74.5 percent, or 400,562, were approved, according to a Brookings Institute report released Wednesday. Only 1 percent of the applicants were denied and 24.5 percent remained under review.

California accounted for 132,195 applicants, of whom 71,507 were approved as of March 22, the report stated. Eighty-five percent of the state’s applicants were originally from Mexico, followed by 6.7 percent from Central America.

The application process comes with a $465 cost, which Moser said could act as a barrier for lower-income applicants. Catholic Charities charges $150 to help prepare and file the application, which is considerably less than the $500 to $1,000 an attorney may charge, Moser said.

He also said he believes that if applicants are not showing up at the charity’s El Centro office, chances are they may not be going anywhere else.

At the same time there are immigrants who are holding out hope that pending immigration reform efforts may produce something that may supplant DACA.

“A number of young people are waiting to see if there’s a better deal,” Moser said.

Conversations he has had with the charity’s nationwide network, and in particular with those along the border, suggest some apprehension still exists among the immigrant community.

A DACA presentation the charity previously had hosted in Salton City failed to attract one individual, Moser said.

Apparently, immigrants in the country illegally are overly cautious about showing up to a location where the only ones in attendance would be those there to apply for immigration benefits, he said.

“A lot of people don’t want to admit that they’re here illegally,” Moser said. “You’re turning yourself in, bottom line.”

Alejandra Orozco was one of those people. Even after having received notification that she had been approved for DACA, she literally had to be dragged into the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office to complete the process.

“I was terrified of admitting I didn’t have papers,” the former El Centro resident said.

The 23-year-old is also among the relatively few locals who had applied with the help of Catholic Charities.

While the majority of her siblings were born in the U.S., Orozco was born in Mexicali after her mother went into labor during a quick border-crossing excursion for some tacos.

A delay in retrieving her birth certificate from the Mexicali hospital where she was born prevented her mother from changing Orozco’s legal status at a time when her mother was applying to have her own legal status changed.

Orozco has no recollection of living in Mexicali, and was never told how she came to live in the Valley.

Once here, a series of subsequent attempts to change her legal status would follow, but to no avail. Obama’s victory in 2008 buoyed her hopes that he would eventually pass the Dream Act, stalled legislation that similarly reflects the conditions and benefits of DACA but allows for eventual citizenship.

Orozco now finds herself attending community college in the Los Angeles area where there are more job opportunities than in comparison to the Valley. Her DACA approval capped a particularly rough 2012.

“I feel like a part of my dream came true,” she said. “Now that it’s been given to me, there’s nothing more that I could ask for.”

Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at

Staff Writer and Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at