Explainer: What You Should Know About Deferred Action

Today is a landmark day for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants. They can start applying for temporary work permits under President Barack Obama's deferred action initiative.

Some young undocumented immigrants pushed for the Dream Act, a bill that would have provided a path to citizenship to those who served in the military or attended college. It failed in the Senate in 2010, but many of those who would have been eligible for the Dream Act will qualify for deferred action. It does not offer a path to citizenship, but DREAMers and immigration advocates are hailing the initiative.

What is deferred action for childhood arrivals?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS) begins accepting applications for deferred action from undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as children on August 15. That means they'll be considered for a two-year reprieve from deportation and, if approved, for a work permit. It gives these young immigrants a chance to work legally and get a driver’s license.

How many people will this program likely impact?

A non-partisan think tank, the Migration Policy Institute, estimates that 110,000 people in New York State and 70,000 people in New Jersey alone will be eligible. Nation-wide the number may be closer to 1.8 million, according to the institute. USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said it could take several months to process these applications, although it’s difficult to estimate exactly how long it will take. It depends on the volume of applications in the coming weeks and months.

What conditions do these undocumented immigrants have to satisfy to qualify for deferred action?

The program applies to young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday. As of June 15, they must be over the age of 15 and under the age of 31, and have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years. They also need to have a high school diploma or a GED, or currently be enrolled in school. They can also be honorably discharged military veterans. They must not have been convicted of a serious crime.

What about young undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes. Can they apply?

That depends on the seriousness of the crime and at what age it was committed — as a juvenile or an adult. Those convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three non-significant misdemeanors will not be eligible for deferred action. For example, driving under the influence is considered a significant misdemeanor. If the young undocumented immigrants were convicted as a juvenile, or their conviction were expunged, they will not be automatically disqualified.

Some immigrants have been fearful that they might end up being deported if their request is denied, or that family members who are not eligible for deferred action might be in danger. Is that something that could happen?

Federal officials say this won't happen. Only those who commit a fraud in their application, have a criminal conviction on their record, or are thought to be a threat to national security or public safety would be put in deportation proceedings.

What do immigrants who satisfy the criteria need to do?

They will have to submit records that prove they qualify for deferred action. Those can include medical, financial and school records. All who apply will have to go through background checks, including fingerprinting. In all, it'll cost $465 to apply. The application process will be funded through the fees, not by taxpayers.