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Thousands of Young Immigrants Seek Deportation Reprieve

Tomorrow marks one month since the Obama administration's new policy allowing young undocumented immigrants to apply for deferred action—which grants temporary relief from deportation and the possibility of a work permit—kicked in. And while demand has been strong, it's not been as robust as immigration officials had predicted.

The New York Times reported that more than 72,000 applications had been received as of this week and that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency had even issued its first approvals. But the agency had been prepped to process up to 250,000 applications in the first month.

From my own interviews earlier this summer with potential beneficiaries—estimates are that more than 1 million young immigrants could benefit from deferred action—there are heavy-duty considerations to make before applying. For many, as The Times reports, they must weigh what sort of risks their own applications could pose for family members who are in the United States illegally but aren't themselves eligible for the reprieve.

Tony Choi, an undocumented youth from South Korea, told me that he was initially skeptical of the policy because it is so limited and because he fears it could undermine any chance to pass the federal DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Choi, a college graduate who has struggled to find a job because he has no legal status, is an ardent supporter of the DREAM Act.

Another DREAMer, Moises Serrano, told me his reluctance to apply stems in part from uncertainty about the outcome of the presidential election and whether the deferred action order would stay in place if Republican nominee Mitt Romney defeats President Obama.

There are also the more practical obstacles to applying for deferred action that may be influencing the pace. Applicants must submit extensive documentation—including school records—and pay a $465 filing fee. Some school districts have been working to ease the burden of document collection for students who ask for records.

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