LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

We're trying something new as 2013 draws to a close: looking at how numbers can tell the story of a year. Today's number: half a million. That's how many people have not yet applied under a new program called Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals, even though they likely qualify. The Obama administration's program, which is known as DACA, allows young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to avoid deportation and to get a work permit for two years.

NPR's Ted Robbins reports from Los Angeles on the challenges in reaching out to those half-million people.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Amanda Chavez Doupe leads forums for legal residents who want to become citizens, like this one at Henry Clay Middle School. The community outreach worker for Catholic Charities in L.A. always tells groups about deferred action too.

AMANDA CHAVEZ DOUPÉ: You can consideration deferred action if you came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday.

ROBBINS: The DACA program was announced in 2012. For months after, undocumented young people - mostly Latino - applied by the hundreds of thousands. It wasn't the DREAM Act they were pushing Congress for but it was a temporary substitute. That flood has now slowed to a trickle. Eligible young people are no longer coming forward in large numbers on their own.

DOUPÉ: They're out there. We just wish that we had more resources to go out and do DACA-specific outreach.

ROBBINS: Adam Luna, of the Own the Dream Campaign, says the biggest challenge is identifying potential applicants and overcoming misinformation about eligibility.

ADAM LUNA: People who didn't go to college think that they don't qualify. People who are young and young parents of 14, 15 year olds don't realize that - that people that young can apply.

ROBBINS: The Washington-based Migration Policy Institute estimates a total of 1.1 million people are eligible for DACA. Of those, the largest group by far were born in Mexico. They, along with other Latin Americans, also make up the largest percentage of people who have already applied. Other groups have not been as organized, especially people brought illegally as children from many Asian countries. Only 16 percent of eligible Filipinos have applied for DACA and just nine percent of Chinese.

Tiffany Panlilio says part of the problem is cultural. Organizers have to overcome a social stigma among Filipinos over admitting they're undocumented.

TIFFANY PANLILIO: It's kind of just seen as a big shame to your family or to your friends.

ROBBINS: Panlilio is with the organization Asian-Americans Advancing Justice.

PANLILIO: It's very similar within the Korean community, definitely the Chinese community.

ROBBINS: To overcome the stigma, Panlilio's organization has a hotline with Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Cantonese and Mandarin speakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

ROBBINS: The organization recently posted YouTube videos DACA applicants can watch in private.

PANLILIO: Just answers some basic questions: What is DACA? You know, will Homeland Security take action on my case? What documents do I need? All those things.

ROBBINS: A lot of people think they need a lawyer to apply for deferred action, which they don't. They do need a $465 government application fee. Adam Luna of the Own the Dream Campaign says that's been an obstacle.

LUNA: Four hundred and sixty-five dollars per individual, in a family that perhaps has more than one child, is a lot of money.

ROBBINS: And then there's fear. Young undocumented immigrants are getting mixed messages. While one department inside Homeland Security - Citizen and Immigration Services - is saying come forward, avoid deportation and get a work permit, another - Immigration and Customs Enforcement - is busy deporting friends, family, and in some cases potential applicants themselves.

Adam Luna says DACA applicants should come forward without worrying.

LUNA: Information from one is not going to be shared with the other - addresses and so on and so forth.

ROBBINS: There's one last reason more young people aren't applying for Deferred Action. Like all undocumented immigrants, they're waiting for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That would provide a permanent solution.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Culver City.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Discussions about race, ethnicity and culture tend to get dicey quickly, so we hold our commenters on Code Switch to an especially high bar. We may delete comments we think might derail the conversation. If you're new to Code Switch, please read over our FAQ and NPR's Community Guidelines before commenting. We try to notify commenters individually when we remove their comments, but given that we receive a high volume of comments, we may not always be able to get in touch. If we've removed a comment you felt was a thoughtful and valuable addition to the conversation, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us by emailing codeswitch@npr.org.