PHOENIX — Arizona has a higher percentage of individuals who have applied for deferred action than any other state, according to a new report.
The study by the Migration Policy Institute found 23,000 people living here had submitted applications by March 31 to remain and work in this country. Federal immigration officials say about 20,000 already have qualified.
The study estimates another approximately 11,000 actually meet the criteria but, for whatever reason, have not applied.
That translates to two out of three of those eligible seeking the protections of the program, compared with just 52 percent nationwide.
Sarah Hooker, a policy analyst for the organization, said she attributes some of that to outreach programs by Spanish-language media informing people of the option to not only stay without fear of deportation, but also work legally.
She said another reason “is probably the amount of immigration enforcement and the climate of immigration policy and politics in the state.”
“When you’re in a state that has more active immigration enforcement, and more, perhaps, restrictive laws and policies, there might be a stronger motivation to go and get this protection,” she said.
Federal immigration enforcement aside, Arizona has been at the forefront of efforts aimed at those in the country illegally. That includes laws to punish employers who hire those without documents and legislation that requires police to question those they have stopped about their immigration status if there is reason to believe they are in the country illegally.
The report comes in the middle of a gubernatorial race in which all six Republican candidates, to one degree or another, have said more needs to be done about the issue.
The application rate is much lower in states that place less emphasis on rooting out illegal immigrants, such as Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia.
The report was released to coincide with the two-year anniversary of implementation of the DACA program, a policy of the Obama administration.
The program allows those who came to the United States before age 16 to seek to remain and get federal documents authorizing them to work in this country. Other qualifications including being younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012, and being physically present in the U.S. on that date.
There also is a requirement to have lived in this country continuously for five years prior to that date. They must also be in school, have earned a degree or are honorably discharged veterans.
All totaled, the most recent figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show about 643,000 had applied to stay.
Beyond the estimated 34,000 Arizonans now eligible, Hooker said another 47,000 Arizonans — and more than 1.6 million nationwide — could become eligible. She said these are likely people who could qualify if they go to school or get a high school diploma.
The report also found one other key difference between Arizona and other states.
Arizona residents who have applied for DACA or are eligible have a lower level of higher education than elsewhere. She said some of that may be financial: Arizona law says those who are not citizens or resident immigrants must pay the higher tuition normally charged to out-of-state residents, a classification that does not apply to DACA recipients.
The report also comes on the heels of last week’s 216-192 vote by the U.S. House to kill the DACA program — an action that is probably is moot, as the Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the issue. And Obama, who initiated the program, already has vowed to veto any congressional effort to kill it.