JERSEY CITY — New Jersey has one of the highest number of immigrants eligible to stay in the United States, but also one of the lowest application rates.

Just 43 percent of immigrants temporarily in New Jersey have applied to stay here legally under an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Officials say application fees and fear of deportation is keeping many individuals from going through the process.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) first issued in 2012 allowed the children of unauthorized immigrants to stay in the United States without fear of deportation. However, they must apply to continue living in the United States.

MPI estimates that as of 2016, 1.3 million young adults ages 15 and older were immediately eligible to apply for DACA. The number rises to 1.7 million when including an additional 398,000 unauthorized immigrants who met all criteria but for high school graduation or current school enrollment.

In New Jersey, of the 53,000 immediately eligible, only 23,000 have gone through with the process. Catalina Aborno, the executive director of We Are One New Jersey, an organization that provides assistance to those who are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship and assistance to those who qualify to apply DACA, said there are three factors that may stop those who are eligible from applying.

The application fee of  $465 can be quite a steep amount.

"A lot of undocumenteds receive very low wages. If you have one or two people in the family who will be applying it can add up," Aborno said, adding that there is no fee waiver available and it must be paid up front.

Another factor is that potential applicants are afraid to make a mistake on their application and are denied they cannot re-apply or appeal the decision.

"There's a lot of things at stake" when applying, she said.

"As a member of an agency that provides these types of services, we haven't done enough work in promoting deferred action at the local level and making people aware of the requirements," Aborno said. "I have also heard of instances where people are afraid of who to trust " and aren't sure where to go.

On its website, the group urges those completing their application to be prepared with the following documents along with a notarized check or money order for $465 made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

  • Identity documents
  • Proof of arrival to the U.S. before 16 years old
  • Proof of entrance to the U.S. before June 15, 2012
  • Proof of living in the U.S. since June 15, 2007
  • Proof that you were in the U.S. on June 15, 2012
  • School records, diplomas or GED certificate
  • Proof of employment, bank statements or military records (if any)
  • Medical records from doctor or hospital (if any)
  • Religious documents (baptism certificate, etc.)
  • Notarized affidavit(s) of support | Letters of recommendation

Sign up for the Newsletter

Get the best of delivered to your inbox every day.