"There were some glitches, but it was handled reasonably well," said Martin, a University of Virginia law professor. Compared with the program announced last month, DACA is clearly a less complex operation.
"Fortunately, I think it helped a lot that people were slow in starting to apply [to DACA] in the beginning," Williams said. "It wasn't like they had this huge influx the day they opened for applications."
There's no way to know just how many people will decide to sign up for the new program to provide temporary deportation relief and work authorization for parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents; they must have lived in the U.S. for more than five years. And speculation swirls on how bombarded USCIS will be once the new program launches.
For one, potential applicants have had a much longer time to prepare, because Obama telegraphed his move long before he made it.
To Williams, this means more people are aware of the program and could be ready to apply at its start. But, as Leopold said, there will still be many who want to test the waters first, and others who will need to learn about its benefits.
Either way, delays are something to be avoided. And USCIS has 180 days, which began after the Nov. 20 announcement, to complete this work.
"I think 180 days are reasonable," Legomsky said, "but people will be working very hard for 180 days."
The agency is in the throes of readying the program for implementation. "USCIS is working hard to build capacity and increase staffing to begin accepting requests and applications for upcoming initiatives," a USCIS spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "Increasing staffing will ensure that every case received by USCIS receives a thorough review under our guidelines."
Since DACA already provided a model for what a deferred action application looks like, it's likely this new program will be similar.
With DACA, an undocumented immigrant fills out an application and mails it to USCIS, along with other required supporting documents and a $465 check. Agency employees input this information into a computer, and look at the application to make sure it's complete. Then, USCIS adjudicators evaluate the case individually and make a decision after analyzing documents meant to show the applicant meets the program's criteria, according to Legomsky.
The new program, DAPA, isn't rocket science, says Jim Johnson, chairman of technology research firm the Standish Group, who was quoted in media outlets as saying HealthCare.gov "didn't have a chance in hell" of succeeding in the beginning. The health marketplace was made more complex than it had to be. And that should be avoided with DAPA, which is fundamentally a much simpler program.
"If you narrow the scope of the project, you narrow the scope of the number of bugs you introduce. It's just math, right?" Johnson said. "The problem with governments is they make it harder than it has to be. What you should really do is make it simpler than it has to be."
It's crunch time for USCIS. And immigration advocates and potential applicants are in limbo as they hold out for further direction.
"It is kind of a wait-and-see," Williams said. "I can't imagine that it will go as smoothly [as DACA] just because of the bigger numbers, the greater awareness, all those things are going to mean they're going to have some implementation issues. But the flip side is DACA was a dry run, and it went well."