Why Some DREAMers Aren't Getting Deportation Relief

PHOTO: dreamerTom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Isabel Castillo, 28, who was born in Mexico but now resides in Virginia, makes a sign for a DREAM ceremonial graduation intended to draw attention to undocumented youths who can't attain higher education or legal status.

New York City will devote $18 million over the next two years to helping young undocumented immigrants stay in the country legally, the New York Daily News reported on Wednesday.

The money will go toward young people applying for an Obama administration program that offers deportation relief and work permits to those who meet certain qualifications.

There are roughly 79,000 young people in New York City who could benefit from the program, but 16,000 of them don't currently meet the eligibility requirements, according to a city official. That's because of the program's educational requirements: you need to have or be working toward a high school diploma, or have earned your GED.

The funds will go toward adult education classes to help people qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The approach that NYC is taking could be a good model for other cities and states, although spending could become an issue in areas that are more cash-strapped and less immigrant friendly.

Since the program officially began in August 2012, more than 500,000 people have applied and been accepted for processing. But that's far below the estimated 950,000 thought to be immediately eligible when it started.

The educational requirements could definitely be a stumbling block.

A 2009 report by the Pew Hispanic Center found that undocumented immigrants are more likely to have low levels of education.

Among undocumented immigrants ages 18-24, an estimated 40 percent have not completed high school. That's far below the national average: census data from 2009 shows that more than 85 percent of people ages 25 and over have high school diplomas.

The deferred action program could be a good motivator to go back to school -- deportation relief and the ability to work legally is a powerful incentive. But for some people, the cost of education programs and the need to work for survival is also an issue.

In 2007, undocumented immigrant households earned a median of $36,000, significantly less than those born in the U.S., who earned a median of $50,000 per household.

Education and related costs aren't the only stumbling blocks for DREAMers hoping to get deportation relief -- a guest columnist outlined some here last month -- but they're issues that cities can address with programs like the one starting in New York.