High DACA Approval Rate Raises Amnesty Questions

By Jessica M. Vaughan on April 26, 2013

Statistics from U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) indicate that the agency is rubber-stamping the applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. They report that 99.5 percent of applicants have been approved, which is well above approval rates for other legal programs, which have fraud and rejection rates in the double digits. This means that the level of fraud could be significant in DACA, which is considered a test run for the much larger amnesty included in the Schumer-Rubio immigration bill.

While USCIS approved 29,793 applications in the first six weeks of the program, it denied just six applications, or one out of every 5,000. But in March, the agency approved about 98.2 percent, meaning it denied nine out of every 500 applications. Today, the approval rate stands at 99.5 percent. See the USCIS report here.

In contrast, the State Department reported an approval rate of 87 percent for immigrant visa applicants at consulates overseas in 2012. USCIS does not publish approval rates for green card applicants, and has so far refused to respond to our requests for this information.

The approval rate is worrisome, considering that prior Center for Immigration Studies research estimated that one quarter of the successful applications during the 1986 amnesty were fraudulent. The 1986 program had an tougher application review process than DACA, that included routine face-to-face interviews. The question is whether a limited review process like that for DACA would also occur under the sweeping amnesty bill currently being considered by Congress.

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The screening process is much less for DACA than it would be for a green card, and so it is much more susceptible to fraud. USCIS should answer public concerns that DACA applicants are not required to prove their claims of eligibility, and that the agency is taking proper care to vet applicants so that unqualified and possibly dangerous individuals will be screened out and removed.

Moreover, given renewed concern over the national security risks of mass immigration, no large-scale legalization program should be implemented until a thorough quality control and fraud assessment of DACA has been conducted. The stakes for public safety are just too high for us to rush into sweeping reforms.

A CIS Backgrounder illustrating the lessons learned from 1986 amnesty can be found here.