DREAMers begin to file for deferred status
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights estimates three times more undocumented immigrants came to Navy Pier Aug. 15 for help than at similar events in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Baltimore combined. | John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:05AM
CHICAGO — The list of caveats is long, the forms are complicated and the application is pricey, but thousands of undocumented young adults are eager to ease their legal status.
Applying for deferred action status under the Obama Administration’s discretionary enforcement policy carries both reward and risk, advocates for immigration reform acknowledge, and sound legal advice is essential.
“Deferred action is a temporary reprieve from deportation,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, legal director of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago.
“This is not a legal status change, but will allow those previously undocumented the opportunity to apply for employment authorization and in Illinois to apply for a drivers license and Social Security number,” Ruiz-Velasco said.
An estimated 15,000 undocumented young adults lined up Aug. 15 at Navy Pier for help with forms on the first day to file, according to the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago.
In Illinois, between 75,000 and 100,000 may be eligible for the program, which nationwide could benefit up to 2 million undocumented youth, Ruiz-Velasco said.
The program is targeted to help students, those with a high school diploma or equivalent or honorable military discharge. Applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16, lived here for five years, are age 30 or younger, and be without a felony conviction and most misdemeanors.
Three forms are required with a $465 application fee and a list of documents to prove residency over the past five years including school records, medical receipts, financial records or church documents. If approved, a two-year deferred status is granted, and reapplication must be made, if the program continues.
“Many of our young people have been waiting years and years and have worked incredibly hard to get to this point,” said Fred Tsao, coalition policy director. “Everyone understands the work is not done and this is a stop-gap; what’s really needed is federal legislation like the DREAM Act.”
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act introduced but not approved in 2010 proposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents.
Though the deferred status policy offers the hope of temporary benefits, it also poses risks.
“It is not a law or even an executive order. There is a risk coming forward and applying, because a policy and a government can change,” Ruiz-Velasco said. “We would hope the government would never take the position to put all of the hundreds of thousands of people who apply into deportation proceedings.”
Applicants who are rejected also risk deportation, so it’s essential to secure good legal advice, experts warn.
“We want to make sure people don’t become victims of fraud by going to unauthorized practitioners,” Ruiz-Velasco said.
Workshops and free legal resources are listed on the justice center’s website at www.immigrantjustice.org. An online self-assessment to check qualifications for deferred status is at https://dreamerjustice.org.
Ruiz-Velasco said the center is seeking additional attorneys and other volunteers to guide applicants, and training will be provided. The center also will hold workshops at a second office in Gurnee and intends to partner with community groups throughout the suburbs to meet the demand for help.
“Those who camped out at Navy Pier really demonstrated how hungry these young people are to pursue their educations and work,” Tsao said. “These are young people who have so much to contribute to this country if given the full opportunity to do so.”