Many undocumented immigrants eligible for a reprieve from deportation under the Obama administration’s DREAM Act-inspired policy shift are choosing not to apply because of fears of their applications being used against them if Mitt Romney wins the presidency.

In June President Obama announced that he would be establishing a process by which those young people who would be eligible for permanent residency and eventual citizenship under the DREAM Act — those brought to the US by the age of 15 who completed two years of college or enlisted in the military — could apply for a pre-emptive deferral of deportation proceedings. The policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), took effect in August.

The administration’s shift followed directly on the mounting of a series of increasingly high profile occupations of Obama campaign offices by DREAM Act-eligible activists.

Romney has pledged to end the DACA policy, but says he will honor any reprieves from deportation already approved when he takes office. Given the program’s complex documentation requirements and high fees, however — and the glacial pace of government bureaucracy — many DACA-eligible young people are hanging back, afraid that an incomplete application could give the government ammunition to use against them in the future.

Only seven percent of the nation’s estimated 1.2 million eligible immigrants applied for DACA in its first month, and though that number has since doubled, only a tiny fraction of applications have so far been processed. Of 180,000 applications submitted so far, only 4,591 have reached final approval. That’s less than three percent of applications, and 0.4 percent of the total eligible pool.

Romney has sent mixed signals on policy for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. He opposes the DREAM Act but says he’d work to give them a chance at permanent residency as part of comprehensive immigration reform. What that policy would look like, however, and how it would be implemented, remain impossible to assess.