Activists gear up to help young illegal immigrants remain here under new Obama policy
BY MARK BROWN firstname.lastname@example.org July 6, 2012 9:28PM
President Barack Obama announces that his administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives, Friday, June 15, 2012, during a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Updated: August 9, 2012 9:34AM
Ready or not, here they come.
Local immigration rights advocates say they will hold a mass workshop Aug. 15 to begin processing young illegal immigrants seeking to remain in the country under the Obama Administration’s new Dream deferral policy.
Still unknown is whether there will actually be any actual applications available for them to fill out.
Taking literally the president’s June 15 pledge to get the program up and running in 60 days, immigrant groups say they scheduled their workshop to help applicants start completing the paperwork as quickly as possible.
If for some reason the program isn’t quite ready to go, however, that also leaves open the possibility the advocacy groups could march everyone over to the offices of the Department of Homeland Security to demand an explanation for the delay.
Despite the excitement created by Obama’s policy shift, especially among Hispanic voters, Friday’s announcement by the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights is in part a measure of lingering skepticism toward the president among immigration advocates.
Before last month’s blockbuster move to stop deporting some illegal immigrants brought to the country as children, the president was hardly regarded as a stalwart of the immigration rights community.
Unable to deliver on a promise of comprehensive immigration reform, Obama also has pursued a policy of stepped-up deportations that his administration says focuses on individuals with criminal records.
Even an Obama administration policy promising prosecutorial discretion in removal cases became a disappointment to immigrant advocates when it was shown that government lawyers were rarely using that discretion to halt deportation proceedings.
Now that the Dream announcement has made Obama a heavy favorite with Hispanic voters, a key swing constituency in the November election, the emphasis is on making sure his administration is held accountable for following through.
Although many questions about the program remain unanswered, officials with the Illinois Coalition said they expect to encourage people to apply — but not everyone.
Many illegal immigrants won’t qualify for the program and could put themselves at greater risk of deportation by applying, they warned during a briefing for reporters Friday.
For those already facing deportation, however, the advice is to immediately raise the new deferral policy as a defense.
To be eligible for the renewable two-year deferrals, individuals must have come to the U.S. under the age of 16 and lived here continuously for at least five years before the June 15 announcement.
They also must either be in school, have graduated from high school or have a GED or be honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
Applicants can’t be above the age of 30. They also are ineligible if they have been convicted of a felony, a “significant misdemeanor” or multiple misdemeanors.
Significant misdemeanors could include everything from sexual abuse or burglary to DUI or drug possession.
Individuals with even minor criminal records could put themselves in the deportation pipeline by applying for the Dream deferrals, advocates said.
For that reason, they are advising everyone to either consult with an immigration lawyer or through nonprofit organizations that will be training volunteers.
Just as important, nobody should apply yet. Immigrants are advised to be especially wary of anyone trying to collect a fee at this point before the rules for the program are final. It’s probably a ripoff.
Even with these limitations, it is expected that 75,000 to 95,000 illegal immigrants in Illinois could benefit from the program.
“We want this process to work,” said Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition. “If there are kinks in the process, we want to expose them as soon as possible.”
Processing as many applicants as possible will make the policy difficult to reverse if there is a change in presidential administrations, he said.
Having long been a supporter of the proposed Dream Act, the legislation first proposed by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin that served as the model for President Barack Obama’s policy, I’m anxious to see this succeed.
While I’d rather see comprehensive reform, at least this deals humanely with the most sympathetic segment of the illegal immigrant population while we’re trying to come to grips with the rest.
By the way, you can expect those applications to be ready as promised. The president isn’t going to want any immigration protests on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.