SAN DIEGO -- When agonizing over a difficult decision, you might make a list of the pros and cons.

Now imagine doing it as one of the more than 1.4 million undocumented students who -- as part of an election-year ploy intended to help the Obama administration smooth over relations with Latinos -- find themselves eligible for a stay of deportation and temporary work visas under a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Pro: If you're approved, you don't have to worry about being deported for two years and you can get a job if an employer will hire you.

Con: There is no path to permanent legal status, let alone citizenship. In many states, you can't use the DACA visa to get what many illegal immigrants really want: a driver's license. You put yourself at risk of deportation since you have to apply for the visa from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the very government agency that has already deported more than 1.5 million people during Obama's first term. You also put any undocumented family members at risk because the personal information you're required to hand over to ICE includes your home address. While ICE didn't know you existed before, now it will always be part of your life since it has a file on you, your fingerprints, and your personal information.

The cons have it.


Advertisement

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who supervises ICE, recently said that the agency is getting more than 3,000 DACA applications every day. The figure should be much higher given the size of the potential applicant pool.

So far, only about 180,000 people have applied. They have to meet the qualifications -- under 31 years of age, arrived before age 16, have lived in the United States for at least five years continuously, no criminal record, and be a high school graduate, college student or military veteran. Only about 4,500 applications have been approved; about 2,000 were rejected or sent back as incomplete.

Those numbers are negligible. You wonder: Is this what all the fuss is about? Despite the hysterics you hear on right-wing talk radio, it is not as if the floodgates have been thrown open and amnesty declared with the stroke of a pen.

In fact, the vast majority of those who are eligible to apply for the program have not done so.

Why not?

The Obama administration, which -- on immigration -- has been dishonest and acted in bad faith. One example is the Secure Communities program, which requires local and state police to lend a hand to immigration agents by profiling the people they arrest for even minor infractions and handing their fingerprints over to federal authorities. The administration told the states and localities that the program would focus only on violent criminals and that they could opt out: neither turned out to be true.

Quietly but effectively, Obama has declared war on the illegal immigrant population in this country with the goal of thinning its ranks. It worked. But it also created a climate of caution, skepticism and fear. And now trust is in short supply.

As a result of cynical politics and poor leadership, a personal decision that was always going to be difficult has become nearly impossible.

Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.