Immigration Officials Plan for 700,000 Eligible DREAM Act Applicants

That's the unofficial number thrown out by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorca on a conference call with reporters Friday evening: USCIS is planning for 700,000 illegal immigrants to potentially eligible for legal status under the DREAM Act, the immigration bill Democrats are trying to pass next week.

That's not an official USCIS number, but rather an outside estimate; it is, however, a number that immigration officials are using to plan for the influx of applications, should the DREAM Act pass.

Mayorcas said:

We are not in a position to, as an administrative agency that implements the laws the Congress passes, to assess ourselves what the likely population of youth that would qualify under the DREAM Act is likely to be, but we have heard estimates from external sources, and so for example we have heard estimates most recently of approximately 700,000 individuals, and that...is a number that we have factored in in assessing our operational readiness...We are sufficiently nimble to handle a population should it be above that...

The DREAM Act would give young illegal immigrants the chance to obtain green cards, if they complete two years of college or serve for two years in the armed services, after graduating from high school or getting a GED. Applicants first apply to become "conditional nonimmigrants" while they work to complete the school requirements; they must reapply after five years; after 10 years of holding that status, they can obtain green cards and become permanent legal residents.

While the bill outlines the requirements applicants must meet (proving they came here at age 15 or younger, paying an application fee), it leaves the applications processing to the Department of Homeland Security, under which USCIS and other immigration-enforcement agencies operate.

On the conference call, Mayorcas stressed that USCIS will be able to handle the wave of applications with which it could be inundated if the DREAM Act passes.