A senior U.S. immigration official has told a House committee that 580,000 illegal immigrants have avoided deportation under the administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, also known as DACA.
That's about 30,000 more approvals than the 553,000 the government reported in May.
People from the New York Immigration Coalition demonstrate with the Statue of Liberty in the background July 14, 2014 in New York's Battery Park. As part of the New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform Campaign, the group is calling for President Barack Obama to take executive action on immigration reform. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA
Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, provided the updated number in prepared testimony he's set to deliver before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning. USCIS is the main federal agency overseeing lawful immigration to the United States.
DACA not only allows non-citizens to avoid deportation, but also allows some participants to qualify for work authorization.
Rodriguez's prepared remarks also said that the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the program, is beginning the second phase of DACA. The second phase relates to renewing deferred action status for those who have already received it.
Under the program, illegal immigrants must formally apply for deferred action, and this status expires after two years. Rodriguez said the first grants of deferred action will expire in September.
DACA has been extremely controversial among Republicans, many of whom argue that it has attracted even more illegal immigrants who hope to find a form of amnesty in the United States. But Rodriguez defended the policy as an act of prosecutorial discretion that allows DHS to focus on other priorities.
"This effort is part of a greater DHS effort to ensure that valuable and limited enforcement resources are spent wisely on those individuals who are a danger to national security or a risk to public safety," he said. "DACA reflects, on a larger scale, the exercise of the prosecutorial discretion that is inherent in every individual encounter in which DHS engages."
He added that the possibility of work authorization "helps achieve the social benefit of lifting these individuals out of the underground economy and enabling them to participate in the mainstream economy."
The GOP says DACA is a main driver of the roughly 60,000 illegal immigrant children who have crossed the southern U.S. border so far this fiscal year.
On that issue, Rodriguez noted that his agency has initial jurisdiction over asylum applications by immigrant children who are not subject to expedited removal procedures.
He said that as of June, USCIS has received more than 1,500 asylum claims from children. Just 167 have been adjudicated, so far, and of these, 108, or nearly 65 percent, have been granted asylum status.
That's a bit higher than the roughly 50 percent asylum rate that some officials and members of Congress have estimated in recent hearings.
Rodriguez also noted that only 163 of the roughly 1,500 asylum claims have come from children apprehended in the current fiscal year, and said most kids wait nearly a year in the U.S. before seeking asylum status.
"According to our records, most unaccompanied children who are apprehended at the border file for asylum with USCIS more than 300 days after entering the United States," he said.