PHOENIX -- As the federal government launches a new program that will allow many young undocumented immigrants to stay temporarily in the U.S., officials warn that applications will be closely scrutinized for fraud and that anyone caught lying could face criminal charges and swift deportation.
Wednesday is the first day that as many 1.76 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors can begin submitting requests for a two-year reprieve from deportation. The policy, introduced by President Barack Obama and known as "deferred action," also will allow them to receive temporary work permits.
Immigration analysts say fraud is a major concern because some undocumented immigrants may be tempted to submit fraudulent documents out of desperation if they don't meet the age and other requirements for the program.
Analysts also point out that a 1986 amnesty law that allowed nearly 3 million illegal immigrants to get green cards was rife with fraud.
Widespread fraud in the deferred-action program could hurt Obama politically leading up to the November election, analysts said. Obama has already come under attack from Republicans who accuse him of bypassing Congress to create a "backdoor amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
Obama has characterized the deferred-action plan as a stopgap after Congress failed to pass the Dream Act, a bill that has languished in Congress for years and would allow undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship by attending college or serving in the military.
Fraud in the deferred-action plan could also undermine the chances of the Dream Act or comprehensive immigration reform, analysts say.
On Tuesday, federal officials released a long-awaited list of 33 types of documents that undocumented immigrants can submit to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to prove eligibility.
Administration officials say the documents are designed to be "independently verifiable" and will be carefully examined by fraud investigators. Applicants who submit questionable documents will be called in for interviews, the official said, pointing out that US- CIS has a division devoted exclusively to detecting and preventing fraud.
Officials say that anyone who engages in fraud will be referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and treated as a priority for immigration enforcement. They will also be subject to criminal prosecution.
Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute said that, because of the politics involved, "it means this program is under a microscope and any evidence of fraud will undermine the program."
Chishti said undocumented immigrants may be tempted to provide fraudulent documents to meet the educational requirements for applying for deferred action, especially through unscrupulous businesses willing to sell education credentials.
To apply for deferred action, undocumented immigrants must show that they are currently enrolled in a public or private school or have graduated from high school or have a GED.
Immigration officials announced Tuesday that undocumented immigrants also can apply if they can show they are enrolled in educational, literacy or vocational programs designed to lead to college, job training, employment or to obtain a high-school diploma or GED.