Young immigrants poised to apply for temporary deportation exemption
Updated: 9:05 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012
Published: 10:29 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012
Like their counterparts across the country, young unauthorized immigrants in Austin prepared — with great but tempered expectations — to begin applying today for temporary relief from deportation under a historic program offered by the Obama administration that also grants work permits to those who qualify.
President Barack Obama announced the policy, enacted via executive order, in June.
As many as 1.2 million people brought to the United States as children could be eligible to apply now, and another 500,000 are reaching the minimum eligibility age of 15 in coming years, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
“People are very excited,” said Diana Morales, a University of Texas sophomore from Houston and a native of Mexico City who said she would apply. “At the same time, it’s kind of surreal that we’re finally getting this opportunity; we’ve worked so hard to get this far.”
But the administration’s program is only a stepping stone, said Julieta Garibay, founder of University Leadership Initiative, a University of Texas group made up of current and former unauthorized immigrants.
For years, the organization has pushed for federal legislation known as the DREAM Act. It would create a path toward citizenship for some young people.
“We are all very aware that we still need to fight for the DREAM Act and for immigration reform,” said Garibay, a 31-year-old Mexico native.
“At the end of the day, it’s the DREAM Act that really needs to pass,” said Ainee Athar, a Pakistani and University of Texas senior who planned to apply for the deportation relief program.
The initiative to defer deportations, formally called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, partially achieves the goals of the DREAM Act but without the path to citizenship.
Critics and Republicans have slammed the initiative as an election-year ploy, a misguided attempt at immigration reform and an incentive for more illegal immigration.
Some, including U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, have called the policy backdoor amnesty with the potential for fraud.
“While potentially millions of illegal immigrants will be permitted to compete with American workers for scarce jobs, there seems to be little if any mechanism in place for vetting fraudulent applications and documentation submitted by illegal immigrants,” said Smith, who represents parts of Travis County.
Department of Homeland Security officials said anyone found to have committed fraud will be referred to federal immigration agents.
Under the new policy, being allowed to legally stay and work in the U.S. is temporary and must be renewed — if the applicant is eligible — after two years, when Obama might no longer be in office. Some advocates worry that a future president will overturn Obama’s order.
Still, that prospect and the requirement to reapply didn’t seem to dim the enthusiasm of would-be applicants in Austin.
“I’m seeing an overwhelming amount of interest among our clients,” said Thomas Esparza, an immigration attorney in Austin.
Of concern, said those who intended to apply, was whether the government would use information gleaned from applications to deport students and/or their families.
That was the most pressing question at four educational forums hosted by the University Leadership Initiative since June, which together drew about 1,000 people, including students and their families.
The federal government has said it will not use information from applications to deport anyone unless the person has committed a felony or three misdemeanors, Morales said.
United We Dream, a national network of DREAM Act advocates, planned a Day of Action across the country, including an event at 2 p.m. today at UT’s West Mall. Organizers said they would celebrate the historic deferral program and push for a permanent solution.
Under the temporary deferrals, the Department of Homeland Security will no longer initiate deportation of immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally before age 16, have lived here for at least five years and are in school, are high school graduates or are military veterans in good standing. The immigrants must also be younger than 30 and have no criminal records.
Morales, an international business student who entered the U.S. with her parents when she was 7, said unauthorized young immigrants seek the opportunity to give back to the community.
“We consider ourselves Americans, too,” Morales said.
Athar said she came to the U.S. at the age of 2 with her parents, members of a religious group that suffered persecution in Pakistan.
“Going back is literally a life-or-death decision,” she said. “There is no place I imagine myself besides the U.S.”
Contact Juan Castillo at 445-3635 Additional material from The Associated Press