Senate Democrats led by Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto earlier this month called on USCIS to address these delays, writing that some young immigrants who submitted their applications when the program reopened were still waiting to be contacted for necessary appointments. “Despite the change in administration and ongoing efforts at USCIS to expand processing capacity, current wait times for DACA requests continue to be high,” senators wrote.
CBS News reports that USCIS spokesperson Victoria Palmer “acknowledged delays in processing applications,” citing factors that include pandemic-related delays. “Palmer said USCIS is expanding services at offices that collect biometrics and scheduling appointments during ‘extended hours,’” the report continued. But adding to the stress level of thousands of applicants is the Republican-led lawsuit that again threatens to end the policy. Texas Judge Andrew Hanen has not yet issued his decision.
“This is an absolutely imperative time for USCIS to be prioritizing and processing DACA applications,” leading attorney Karen Tumlin told CBS News. “We have to remember that these aren’t numbers. These are people who have waited for over three years to apply and are fearful everyday that there could be a court ruling closing down the program.”
Immigrant rights advocacy group CASA, which helped about 60 young immigrants (including Morales) with first-time applications, said none of those 60 have yet been approved by USCIS. “It’s been very frustrating,” she told CBS News. “My mom always pushes to look at the website, to look for any updates. I’ve kind of lost patience. It’s very frustrating to want to do anything to create a foundation for myself because I don’t have any of the essential permits.” According to 20-year-old Armando Salazar, another first-timer, he applied in February and has yet to have a biometrics appointment. “It’s been frustrating,” he told CBS News.
“USCIS needs to speed review of all DACA applications,” Tumlin tweeted. “In the Jan – March period, only 763 initial DACA apps were approved, and nearly 50K folks applied. Bad sign: the DACA application backlog GREW under Biden, and there are now over 55K initial apps pending. What does this mean?” she continued. “Folks are still interested in & applying for DACA, which means the program remains a success. But it’ll only continue to be successful if DHS prioritizes processing applications in a timely fashion.”
Senate Democrats said last week that they would be seeking to include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in their infrastructure proposal. While it’s no guarantee that this will make it into the final proposal, the development came to cheers from advocates who have been pushing Democrats to go at it alone. “For months, the immigrant justice movement has sought a path to victory on citizenship legislation that relies on the strong support of Democratic champions and not the bad faith of Republican pretenders,” said America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry.
Undocumented immigrants need permanent relief, and as we continue to push for legislation solutions, USCIS must improve the application process for young immigrants and address these delays. “DACA is a testament to the power of immigrant youth leaders & it’s clear that the program is still vital,” Tumlin said. “But it is not enough. We need a permanent path to citizenship for all undocumented youth & others. Until then, DACA must be updated so it can continue to be a lifeline.”