DREAMers just beginning 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: September 12, 2012 11:55AM
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 driver’s 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.
“We already know there is a need in the Highland Park and Highwood community for this kind of help,” said Paul Dean, executive director of Family Service, which assists Latino youth and families, among other services. Dean said his agency is working with other organizations in an attempt to arrange a similar event, albeit on a smaller scale, but doesn’t have the resources to assist applicants with the $465 fee.
“How in the world is someone going to come up with that?” he asked.
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 the $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.
“There is a risk in coming forward the way the law was passed,” said Dean. “If you apply, and for whatever reason, you are not approved, the whole family could be subject to deportation. Is there a lot of deportation going on? The fear of deportation is enormous,” said Dean, noting the threat will deter families from seeking information, let alone pursuing an application.
Ruiz-Velasco noted that federal policy could change at any time. The deferred action initiative is neither a law nor an executive order.Advocates say it’s essential that applicants secure good legal advice.
“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 center’s website at www.
An online self-assessment to check qualifications for deferred status is at https://dreamerjustice.org.
Staff Writer Karen Berkowitz contributed to this story.