It’s down to one more day.
Tomorrow, it is estimated that close to two million young adults under the age of 31 who came to the U.S. as undocumented children will be able to start applying for deferred deportation, freeing these young adults to go to college, get a job, join the military, and, at least temporarily, have a new lease on life.
“I am getting all my stuff ready for the application,” says United We Dream’s Erika Andiola, from Mesa, Arizona. ”It seems surreal that two years ago we were in Washington pushing so hard,” Andiola adds. ”It’s a really good feeling.” Andiola was featured in a recent Time magazine cover, “We Are Americans – not just legally.” Now, Andiola is helping her sixteen-year-old brother fill his deferred deportation application out.
In June, President Barack Obama issued an executive order, effective starting tomorrow. Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made the “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” Form I-821D, available on their website. This allows undocumented immigrants who were primarily brought here as children and who fulfill certain conditions to apply for deferred deportation status. As a result, these young adults will be able to obtain work permits, financial aid, social security numbers, and all the other documentation that most Americans take for granted — but which has been an elusive dream for young adults like Andiola.
To qualify, undocumented immigrants must be under 31, must have come to this country before they were sixteen, and lived here for at least five years. They must either be in school or have graduated, or been honorably discharged by the military. They must also have no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions, pose no threat to national security, nor have three misdemeanor convictions. Immigration officials stress, however, that Dreamers who have no serious criminal offenses can apply and not worry about repercussions for themselves or any family member. The applications fall under immigration services, not immigration enforcement.
To get ready for tomorrow, community organizations, bar associations, non-profit groups and some congressional offices around the country have been busy providing guidance and information. One of these organizations is Florida-based Americans for Immigrant Justice. “I came here from Cuba as a child in 1961, and I wish the Dreamers had the same opportunities I did,” says Susana Barciela, policy director for the non-profit organization. The group, which will have a rally tomorrow with Dreamers and educators at Miami Dade College, has provided legal representation and guidance to young undocumented Americans who have been at risk for deportation.
“We helped a young man, Juan Gomez, who ended up going to Georgetown on a private scholarship and is now working at JP Morgan Chase,” says Barciela. ”This is the kind of potential these kids have; so many are so smart, dedicated, and very involved in the community.”
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, known as CHIRLA, has a downloadable packet on their website on deferred deportation, and has also been hosting information seminars. CHIRLA is also providing names and addresses of “trusted” community organizations in the Los Angeles, California area which help families with the processing of these applications for a nominal fee. Community leaders, as well as legislators such as Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, have been warning Dreamers and their families to beware of scammers trying to charge large sums in order to “help” families. The USCIS has a page on how to avoid being scammed. The government is charging a $465 fee per application.
Tomorrow, Gutierrez, who is the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Taskforce,will host an all-day DREAM Relief Day event in Chicago at the Navy Pier, to help Dreamers and their families navigate the application process. This is just one of several events around the country.
But though many are focusing now on the applications and the paperwork to make it happen, Dreamers like Andiola are also stepping back and taking it all in.
“I think it’s more than a personal victory,” says the young Latina. ”It’s a movement. It’s such a great feeling.”