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Franko Milan, who just applied to have his deferred action (DACA) renewed on Tuesday, August 5, 2014. Arizona has the highest application rate for the program of any state. One reason may be that young undocumented immigrants in Arizona have been motivated to apply because of the strong immigration enforcement environment here. / Nick Oza/The Republic

PHOENIX - Immigrants like Franko Milan have made Arizona the most successful state in sign-ups for President Barack Obama's deferred-action program, which offers protection from deportation and work permits for those brought to the U.S. illegally.

The 23-year-old Phoenix resident submitted his application on Aug. 20, 2012, just five days after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program began accepting applications.

In Arizona, 66 percent of the 34,000 people immediately eligible for the program have applied. Almost 20,000 already have been approved.

That is the highest application rate of any state; significantly higher than the 55 percent application rate nationally, according to a new study released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

The state's tough stance toward undocumented immigrants has motivated more people to apply for the program, according to experts.

"Immigration has been such a contentious issue for so long and it's so high visibility in Arizona that people knew about the program and probably felt it was in their best interest to sign up," said Michael Fix, president of the institute.

Arizona's large Mexican immigrant population and strong network of immigrant advocacy organizations, also likely contributed to the high application rate, Fix said.

Texas is second to Arizona, with an application rate of 64 percent. Colorado and Nevada with 61 percent each and North Carolina with 59 percent round out the top five, according to the report, which only ranked the 15 states with the largest number of undocumented immigrants eligible for the program.

States such as Massachusetts and Virginia, where the immigration population is more diverse and political attitudes toward undocumented immigrants are more favorable, tended to have lower application rates, Fix noted. In Massachusetts, 37 percent of eligible immigrants have applied for the program, in Virginia 38 percent, according to the report.

The report's volatile timing

The report was timed to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the DACA program. Immigrants approved in 2012 are beginning to apply to have their deferred action from deportation renewed.

But the report also comes at a time when Republicans in Congress are attacking the program, blaming DACA for spurring the surge in unaccompanied minors entering the country illegally.

The White House has countered that the surge was prompted by children fleeing rampant gang violence in their home countries and attempting to reunite with families in the U.S.

On Friday, just before adjourning for its August recess, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill to kill the DACA program and prevent the Obama administration from expanding it in the future by freezing additional federal funds for the program.

The bill was largely symbolic, however, since it is not likely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, and Obama said he would veto it.

The Migration Policy Institute report said that as of July 20, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had accepted 681,189 DACA applications and approved 587,366 of them.

The report estimated there were 1.2 million young undocumented immigrants immediately eligible for the program. It estimates that if the program continues, another 473,000 undocumented immigrants will become eligible after they turn 15, provided they stay in school. About 80,000 to 90,000 kids a year become eligible.

Applicants must be at least 15 and under the age of 31. They must also have been brought to the U.S. before turning 16, lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007, and have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012.

Therefore, none of the child migrants who have arrived from Central American this year qualify for the program.

The report notes that despite receiving deferred action under the program, many young, undocumented immigrants would not qualify for legal permanent status under the DREAM Act, a bill that has been pending in Congress for years.

The DREAM Act would allow young, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors to gain permanent residency if they completed two years of college or military service.

"Raising the number of youth who reach this threshold will require significant investments to promote college enrollment, retention and degree completion," Wednesday's report said.

'It's not a good feeling'

Milan said one of the reasons he applied for the DACA program right away was because he didn't want to be deported to Mexico.

His parents brought him to Arizona when he was nine months old on a tourist visa and the family remained in the U.S. illegally after the visa expired.

In October 2011, Milan said, he was stopped by a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy while riding through the town of Guadalupe on his motorcycle. The deputy told him he had failed to come to a compete stop at a stop sign and booked him into jail because he didn't have a license.

The next day he was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and placed in deportation proceedings.

After Milan applied for DACA, ICE closed his deportation case. He was approved for the program in April 2013. He applied last week to renew his approval for another two years.

Milan said receiving deferred action has made him less worried about being deported.

"It's not a good feeling being in that situation," he said.

It also has created opportunities.

After receiving his work permit, Milan enrolled in classes and earned his real estate license. He now works as a real estate agent.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Ariz. leads in deferred-action application rate

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