Obama immigration policy brings spike in criminal record searches

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramAugust 30, 2012 

Tarrant County Texas has seen a dramatic spike in the number of requests for criminal record searches from Dream Act hopefuls seeking to gain U.S. citizenship.

The "Dreamers," as some call the illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, hope to be granted deferred action under an Obama administration directive. As many as 800,000 undocumented young people in the U.S. could qualify under deferred action, some estimates show.

Applicants must submit to a background check and have a clean record without felonies and serious misdemeanors, or any evidence of being a threat to the country.

The guidelines were set up in a June 15 memorandum by Janet Napolitano, United States Secretary of Homeland Security.

As a result, demand for felony record searches has almost tripled over the last two weeks, District Clerk Tom Wilder said Tuesday. In late July, Wilder said his clerks ran 58 searches. By comparison, 169 searches were recorded the week of Aug. 13-17, Wilder said.

"We're trying to handle this with existing personnel," Wilder said. "That remains to be seen if we can do that ... but that's a job we're supposed to do under the law so we're doing it."

Deferred action is not a method that would grant individuals legal status. Only Congress can do that under the Dream Act, which isn't yet law.

Congress has been wrangling for years over specific proposals, but political pundits have said the Act is still "just a dream."

But a clean criminal record will be a step to permanent lawful status. What's more, it will automatically grant an individual the ability to get a job. Some young people with college degrees have been unable to get jobs because of their undocumented status.

Felony case searches in Tarrant County are conducted by the district clerk's office; misdemeanor searches are conducted by the county clerk's office.

Other deferred action prerequisites require that applicants: be under the age of 31 as of June 15; arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday; continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007; be in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion of high school, federal records show.

Department of Homeland Security officials are expected to decide each case. Wilder said it is using the data from Tarrant County as a "screening" tool.

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