A month after Obama announced his deferred action proposal, his administration said it has approved 29 applications of undocumented immigrants who applied. Another 1,600 applications are awaiting final review.
The applicants are hoping to avoid deportation and get a work permit under Obama’s administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Department of Homeland Security Spokesman Peter Boogaard said that as of Friday, U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services had received about 82,000 applications from undocumented immigrants hoping to qualify for the program.
The first immigrants to win the reprieve were notified this week. They will be allowed to stay in the United States for up to two years and be given permission to work; applications can be renewed every two years.
USCIS started accepting applications for the program on Aug. 15. The first approvals came well ahead of the department's own internal estimates that it could take four to six months for an application, including fingerprints and a background check, to be fully reviewed.
Republican lawmakers have decried Obama's policy, saying it is tantamount to "backdoor amnesty" for as many as 1.7 million undocumented immigrants.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., earlier this week questioned the timing of the first wave of approvals.
"The speed at which the deferrals are being granted continues to raise severe concerns about fraud and the administration's ability to verify items like age of entry, educational status and even current age," Sessions said.
President Barack Obama and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the program in June. To be eligible, applicants have to prove that they arrived in the United States before they turned 16, are 30 years old or younger, be high school graduates or in school, or have served in the military. They also cannot have a serious criminal record or otherwise pose a threat to public safety or national security.
The program closely tracks with the failed DREAM Act, a bill would have provided a path to legal status for many young illegal immigrants. The new policy does not provide legal status for the immigrants, but does protect them from deportation for two years.