Washington – More than 3,000 undocumented Connecticut youths have applied to shield themselves from deportations, and nearly 70 percent of them have obtained provisional legal status, a study says.

A new report from the Brookings Institution says a year after President Obama used his executive authority to halt deportations of undocumented children, more than 435,000 youths applied for “deferred action for childhood arrivals”  — 3,069 of them in Connecticut.

Using information gathered through a Freedom of Information request, the report said nearly 75 percent of applications nationwide have been approved.

About 24 percent were in processing and only 1 percent denied.

The approval figure was lower in Connecticut. About 69 percent, or 2,127 applications, were approved.

Audrey Singer, author of the report, said the lower approval rate in Connecticut does not mean youths in the state are less likely to win approval of their applications.

“The most likely reason for this is that this is a program without a deadline, and a lot of applications are still in the pipeline,” Singer said.

The DREAM Act, a bill that has had trouble winning congressional approval, would give undocumented children legal status. Obama’s action does not do so.  But it gives approved applicants two important advantages — temporary suspension of deportation and the right to work in the United States.

According to the report, the most common age at arrival was 8 years old and almost a third of the young immigrants were 5 years old or younger.

To successfully win deferred action, an applicant must:

  • Have arrived in the United States before his or her 16th birthday;
  • Have continuously resided in the United States without legal status since June 15, 2007;
  • Be younger than age 31 as of June 15, 2012, and at least age 15 years old at application. An exemption is made for younger children who are already in deportation proceedings;
  • Be currently enrolled in school, have graduated high school or obtained a general development certificate (GED), or be an honorably discharged veteran;
  • Have not been convicted of a felony or multiple or serious misdemeanors and not pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Carolina Bortoletto, 25, who lives in Danbury, is among those who obtained deferred action status.

Born in Brazil, Bortoletto came to the United States 15 years ago when she was 9 with her parents and a younger sister. She attended Western Connecticut State University on a scholarship, but never expected to be able to use her Master’s degree in biology.

“To me my diploma was just a piece of paper,” she said. “But now I have a work permit so I can actually look for work.”

There are estimates that 900,000 youths nationwide are eligible for deferred action. But fewer than half have applied. That means there may be more eligible applicants in Connecticut, Singer said.

Nationally, nearly 75 percent of the applicants come from Mexico. That’s not the case in Connecticut, where the largest group of applicants — nearly 39 percent — come from South America.

A May study by the Migration Policy Institute showed that Bridgeport was one of the areas in the nation with a high concentration of residents from South America, an estimated 30,000 to 75,000. But the rest of the state has very few South American residents.

The next largest group in Connecticut to apply for deferral comes from Mexico, 26 percent, then Central America, 14.1 percent. Although Connecticut has a large Dominican population, only 7.1 percent of the state’s applicants come from the Caribbean, the report said.

In her report, Singer said many applicants for deferred action are motivated by opportunities to come out of the shadows and apply for a work authorization card, to gain eligibility for in-state tuition at public colleges and apply for a driver’s license.

On the other hand, some potential applicants are discouraged because they don’t know if they qualify given the criteria, they lack of funds for the $465 application fee, they can’t document continuous presence in the United States, or they failed to enroll in school, Singer said.

She also said some potentially eligible youths may not be aware of their undocumented status.

A second look

The political success of the president’s action has prompted Republicans in Congress who were opposed to the DREAM Act to take a second look. Some are hoping it would become a substitute for a much more comprehensive immigration bill approved by the Senate that would put 11 million undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship.

“We all view children as a special, protected class,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C, at a hearing last month.

Gowdy also said that holding out for a comprehensive bill would “only wind up hurting the most vulnerable.”

But youths such as Bortolleto, who support the DREAM Act, known as Dreamers, have rejected the GOP proposal.

“While I would be eligible for status, my parents would not have any safety net,” she said. “They’re afraid to drive because if they get stopped they could be deported.”

Ana Maria Rivera, legal analyst for the New Haven–based Junta for Progressive Action, an immigrant advocacy group, also thinks the GOP plan is a bad idea.

“We definitely don’t believe this is a way to fix the problem,” Rivera said. “Just giving citizenship to some people but not others seems incredibly unfair.”

The Republican-led House is expected to take up the issue of immigration reform this fall. But there’s a yawning gap between the bill approved by the Senate and backed by Obama and what House Republicans will accept. Most House Republicans object to providing a way toward citizenship for the undocumented.

Still, Rivera is hopeful.

“We are in a huge historic moment,” she said. “The possibility to do something is more real than ever.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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