Today, hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to America as children can begin seizing the opportunity to live and work legally in the United States.
A new Obama initiative –Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – allows undocumented immigrants from the ages of 15 to 31 to apply for a work permit. Estimates are that more than a million young people are eligible.
The Obama initiative represents more of a reprieve than a redemption for these teens and young adults, many of whom have lived in the United States since childhood. It does not create a path to citizenship but does defer deportations and permit young undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows. The deportation deferrals last two years, and must then be renewed.
The work permits essentially allow holders to live in the daylight; they will be able to obtain Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses and apply for financial aid for college. They will be able to open bank accounts and seek certifications to work as nurses and electricians.
Workshops on how to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals permits — which require a $465 fee — have been inundated with attendees. News photos show lines of people waiting for help snaking around the blocks. Many of those in line were carrying proof of their good character and their lives in America, including school awards, rent checks, diplomas, tax records, immunization records and pay stubs.
Alexandra Alor follows a simple system to elude immigration authorities. An illegal immigrant from Peru, Alor doesn’t venture out of her home in DeKalb County when she sees police setting up traffic stops nearby or hears about them on Hispanic radio stations. That system has worked for the 17-year-old Lakeside High School student ever since her grandmother illegally brought her to the United States about 10 years ago.
Now she sees an opportunity to remain here without the nerve-racking fear of deportation. She plans to apply for special consideration this week under a controversial new policy the Obama administration announced in June. The policy applies to illegal immigrants who were brought here as young children, who have not committed serious crimes and who are now in school or have graduated.
Proponents say the policy is a humane way to boost the U.S. economy by keeping educated immigrants such as Alor here. Critics say the White House is pandering to Hispanics for votes with its election-year announcement, and that the move could take jobs away from American citizens. They also worry the changes could send the wrong signals, inviting more people to enter the country illegally. The government’s new approach comes as Georgia is battling in federal court for permission to enforce several tough measures aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.
Wednesday is the first day immigrants such as Alor may start applying to the government for “deferred action,” or a promise that they won’t be deported for two years. Alor can apply again in two years. She also plans to seek permission to work legally here as part of the same process.
Nearly 1 million immigrants across the U.S. are now eligible for deferred action, according to an estimate by the Immigration Policy Center, an arm of the American Immigration Council, an immigrant rights and policy group in Washington. Of those, 24,360 live in Georgia, the eighth-largest total among states.
And here is an excerpt of a Washington Post story:
“People are very, very anxious to file, so we’ve been telling them to over-prepare,” said Emid Gonzalez, manager of legal services at Casa de Maryland. The group has scheduled an afternoon workshop Wednesday at which she expects to see family documents by the armload. “The phone has been ringing off the hook.”
On Antonio Aleman’s dining table in a double-wide trailer in Suitland, the pile of birth certificates and school transcripts has grown to nearly a foot tall as he prepares to sign up his two children, 15 and 21. With his wife Ruth slapping fresh tortillas in the kitchen, Aleman sorted through his daughter Beatrize’s academic bona fides, including a certificate of achievement from Surrattsville High School.
“I think they will qualify. They are good students; we’ve been working hard, paying our taxes,” said Aleman, 43, a bakery truck driver from El Salvador who came with his family nine years ago and outstayed their visa. He already bought two money orders for $465 each to cover the application fee. “It’s been difficult to wait. What else do we need? Do we have everything?”
The protected status has to be renewed every two years. And the program’s name, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, may lack the aspirational heft of the “Dream Act.” But immigration advocates are treating today’s launch as a great victory.
“This is single largest opportunity we’ve had since [the amnesty program of] 1986 to bring people out of the shadows and into documented status,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who led efforts to pass the Dream Act in the House only to see it fail in the Senate in 2010. “We’ve got to take advantage of it. Our goal should be to sign them up, sign them up, sign them up.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog