Deferred Action: How much protection does it provide undocumented youth?
By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — On Aug. 15, the door to citizenship opened — if only a crack. The so-called Deferred Action program will make it possible for an estimated 1.7 million undocumented teens and young adults to obtain a two-year work permit without fear of being tagged by the Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents. At the end of two years, the permits will need to be renewed.
An estimated 85 percent of the undocumented people are Latinos, with the remainder originating from Africa, Asia, Europe, and other locales.
The key provision of the Deferred Action program prevents ICE agents from pursuing young people who might otherwise be targets for deportation. The protected group would be those currently between the ages of 15 and 30.
In Portland, candidates got a week’s head start to learn the details of the Deferred Action program courtesy of Causa, known as Oregon’s immigrant rights organization.
At the Q Center in North Portland, Christian Baeff and Erin McKee explained the details of the program and answered questions from some of the more than 40 people. Baeff is Causa’s LGBT building coordinator and McKee serves as staff attorney of SOAR Immigration Legal Services.
McKee estimated that about 16,000 Oregon residents would be eligible for the program. The unanswered question remains about how many will hold back for fear of exposing their parents.
Baeff emphasized the importance of telling the truth when filling out the Deferred Action forms.
The rules of the program
The baseline of the Deferred Action program is age. By April 15, 2012, candidates must have been at least 15 years old, but not 31 or older. Birth or baptism records will help prove one’s age.
The second provision requires that candidates must have come to the U.S. under the age of 16. To convince authorities, candidates must have written proof such as school documents. Additional documents from banks, employers, and utility companies will help.
The third hurdle is proving that the candidate has lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007. Again, a continuous assortment of documents will help to verify this condition. Records from schools and U.S. military service will help.
McKee said the “no travel outside the United States” rule might allow “a brief and important [trip] for a few days.” She recommended talking to a lawyer before departing on any trip to other countries.
The tough part will be coming up with the money for the government’s services. The basic fee for filing for Deferred Action is $465.
After that, most candidates will need some help in processing their papers. Attorneys or organizations can help with this step. Legal fees can be quite expensive. Causa offers a plan that includes a $300 paperwork processing fee and a $50 Causa affiliate fee. This comes to $350 to add on to the $465 governmental fee, making a total of $815.
What not to expect
The Deferred Action program does what it says. It defers — delays — possible future actions against undocumented persons.
It does not provide a path to citizenship. That would depend upon Congress to pass a law and for the president to sign it.
ICE can terminate any Deferred Action papers at that agency’s discretion.
The program does not make anyone eligible to obtain a driver’s license or in-state tuition rates. Those privileges may — or may not — be issued by each state.
Could matters change?
The Deferred Action program is not a law. Its basis draws from a relaxation in a 2011 memorandum titled “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Aliens.”
In short, “Prosecutorial Discretion” allows ICE officials some flexibility in enforcing immigration issues. It presumably allows ICE to tighten up their enforcement whenever they choose.
Most likely, the call for changes will come from the President of the United States.
Earlier this year in a speech before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, Romney referred to the plan several times, but left few clues what he would do if elected. The former governor of Massachusetts opted for a non-confrontational approach.
During a rally in Beaverton in early in August, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson said he favored making worker permits for non-citizens as easy as possible. Moreover, Johnson added, he favored allowing non-citizens to apply for driver’s licenses because it would make the roads safer. Johnson, a two-term New Mexico governor, called immigrant workers in his state “the cream of the crop.”
Early In 2012, Green Party presidential hopeful Jill Stein called for ending the “war on immigrants.” She suggested creating a legal path to citizenship for immigrant residents.
The Constitution Party presidential candidate Virgil Goode took a firm stand on immigration. “My views of totally ending illegal immigration and reducing legal immigration if America is to be saved,” he said. Goode is a former U.S. representative (R-VA).
All three of these minority parties will be on the November ballot in Oregon.
A program; not a law
Some opponents described the Deferred Action plan as “a new law” or “an executive order.”
The Washington, D.C.-based American Immigration Council called such terms inaccurate. The president, the council claimed, “… merely directed DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to exercise discretion to grant deferred action to qualified youth — an action that is well within his power as president.”
The Deferred Action program stirred up a number of opponents. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) wrote, “Ignoring Congress and the American people, President Obama has unconstitutionally and unilaterally granted de-facto amnesty to illegal aliens through an executive order.”
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