SAN DIEGO – The Obama administration said Friday it will begin charging $465 this month for temporary work permits for many young illegal immigrants, as it laid out details of one its signature new policies on immigration.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will begin accepting applications Aug. 15 for the permits that are subject to renewal for two years. It will consider a limited number of fee exemptions but expects costs to be shouldered by applicants, not taxpayers.
Under the program, which President Barack Obama announced in June, immigrants must have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, be 30 or younger, lived in the U.S. at least five years and be in school, graduated or served in the military.
They are ineligible if convicted of a felony, three misdemeanors or one "significant" misdemeanor.
Significant misdemeanors, as defined by Homeland Security, are any offenses that result in more than 90 days in jail, and some offenses regardless of the sentence, including domestic violence, burglary and gun and drug crimes.
Minor traffic offenses, including driving without a license, will not be counted at all against applicants. Driving offenses are an important point because all but three states — New Mexico, Utah and Washington — deny licenses to illegal immigrants.
Applicants, who must attend an appointment and submit to background checks, might have to wait several months for a ruling. The wait will depend on the backlog.
The agency said the number of applications will determine how many employees it hires, and it did not provide an estimate for the total cost of the program. The Associated Press reported last month that Homeland Security Department internal documents estimated hundreds of employees may be hired and that the total cost could top $585 million.
The internal documents estimated that the number of applicants might top 1 million in the first year, or more than 3,000 a day. It will cost between $467 million and $585 million to process applications in the first two years, with revenues from fees paid by immigrants estimated at $484 million.
Agency Director Alejandro Mayorkas said in a conference call with reporters that fee exemptions will be granted in limited circumstances. Eligibility criteria include homelessness, a serious disability or at least $25,000 in unpaid medical bills.
The agency said it will not use information gathered during the applications to begin deportation proceedings, with some exceptions for certain criminal convictions and public safety threats. Mayorkas said anyone who lies on their applications will be subject to criminal prosecution and deportation.
The guidelines offered no major surprises, prompting supporters and opponents to sound familiar themes.
"Today's guidance undermines the rule of law and gives lawbreakers an unfair advantage over legal immigrants. When will this president's assault on the rule of law and the American people end?" said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, a leading critic.
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said the guidelines offered clarity and that it would encourage people to apply without fear.