How many Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants admitted have been placed in deportation proceedings or received a final order to leave the United States? How many had a Social Security number? Federal officials have all of this information and more — but refuse to make it public.
An immigration think tank announced Tuesday it is suing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), argued that the information — which comes from the application form for the DACA program — is important.
“It takes an inordinate amount of time to get basic information from government records,” she said. “We don’t always resort to lawsuits.” But in this case, Vaughan said, a lawsuit is justified. All of the information sought comes from questions the government has asked DACA applicants.
A USCIS representative declined to comment, citing agency policy on pending litigation.
Vaughn’s group, which favors lower levels of immigration, requested the information under FOIA in October. The USCIS acknowledged receipt of the request October 16 but did not respond to it within the 20-day deadline specified in the law.
Former President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012 through executive action. It shields from deportation qualifying illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States as children. Beneficiaries also receive renewable permits allowing them to work legally in the United States.
More than 20,000 new DACA applicants have been accepted since a federal judge earlier this year ordered President Donald Trump to restart the program, which the president had ordered closed. There now are more than 700,000 DACA recipients — the vast majority from Mexico.
Vaughan noted that Congress has debated granting amnesty to the illegal immigrants who enrolled in DACA.
“Yet we know very, very little about this population … It’s really surprising that more lawmakers aren’t interested in it,” she said.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) last month obtained some data from USCIS, including the fact that two-thirds of DACA applicants with criminal records received work permits.
Said Vaughan: “If there is to be an amnesty, it would be better to have a screening process and eligibility rules that apply to green cards.”
But Vaughan said her interests are broader.
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“I’ve been very frustrated that there is so little information about people with DACA because we’re talking about granting a path to citizenship,” she said.
Up to now, Vaughan said, scholarship on DACA recipients has been limited to surveys with small samples and studies that make guesses about the DACA population by using census data to identify immigrants with similar demographic characteristics.
Countries such as Australia fund detailed studies of their immigrant populations to determine how newcomers do over time, how much they pay in taxes, and much they cost in government services, Vaughan said.
More robust information would also be useful for research purposes beyond DACA, Vaughan said. One of the requests she made in the FOIA request is information that breaks down DACA by the city — and not just the country — from which applicants came.
Vaughan said that information would give researchers insight into illegal immigration patterns beyond merely DACA, assuming DACA applicants are representative of illegal immigrants generally in a given year.
Perhaps, Vaughan said, researchers could see patterns indicating where illegal immigrants come from and what motivates them.
The attorney handling the FOIA lawsuit is Julia Axelrod, who recently left the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) to take the newly created position of litigation counsel at Center for Immigration Studies. Vaughan said the think tank intends to become more aggressive in prying information from the government.
To name just one example, Vaughan said she has been waiting for a year and a half for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to comply with a request to provide a report that the agency produces weekly. She said she wanted that report from four different dates in order to track changes over time.
“All they had to do is Xerox them and put them in an envelope,” she said.