WASHINGTON -- Nearly 4,600 young undocumented immigrants have been granted deferred action under the Obama administration, lifting their fears of being deported and allowing them to work legally, according to figures released by the Department of Homeland Security on Friday.
The speed with which DHS processes deferred action applications has renewed importance in light of remarks by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who said last week that he would end the deferred action policy but honor the applications already approved under the Obama administration.
Romney's campaign confirmed that those still in line for deferred action wouldn't be given consideration if he became president, meaning many undocumented immigrants with pending applications would be left in the cold.
That could affect a lot of people. DHS noted that the pace of these early acceptances isn't necessarily reflective of how quickly the rest of the decisions will be made. While the 4,600 applications were approved within two months of submission, the department predicts the average time to process requests will be four to six months, spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a statement.
As of Wednesday, nearly 180,000 had applied for deferred action, DHS reported. About 158,000 are being checked for criminal records, while around 6,400 are on the final step of review.
President Barack Obama announced on June 15 that his administration would no longer deport young undocumented immigrants if they met certain criteria, including having entered the United States as children, having a clean criminal record and attending school. The policy roughly aligns with the goals of the proposed Dream Act, a decade-old bill that most recently failed in the Senate in 2010.
Republicans have accused the president of trying to bypass Congress in enacting the policy, but the administration argues that it's within the bounds of its discretion to focus on pursuing undocumented immigrants who are dangerous or have repeatedly violated immigration law.