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Students eager to learn about deferred action

Sarahi Hernandez knows the risks but come Aug. 15, she’ll be applying for deferred action status. If granted, it would finally give the young Mexican undocumented immigrant, who came to this country when she was 8 months old, the right to work legally.

“This is something I’ve been waiting for,” said Hernandez, 19, a sophomore human services major at Metropolitan State College of Denver. “Having a work permit would let me get a job to pay for my education.”

On Thursday night, more than 200 young people – and many parents of young people – turned out for an informational forum sponsored by Padres & Jóvenes Unidos on the recently announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Attorneys walked participants through the complicated process of applying and answered questions about what sorts of documentation and legal representation they will need. The program will begin accepting applicants on Aug. 15.

A way to avoid the constant threat of deportation

The deferred action program, announced by the Obama administration in June, offers a way for young undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and who have remained here for most of their lives to be relieved – at least temporarily – of the threat of deportation.

It’s not amnesty and it’s not a path to citizenship or a permanent residency card. But it does grant those approved by the Department of Homeland Security the ability to apply for work authorization and receive an Employment Authorization Card, which they need in order to hold a job legally.

Deferred action will be granted in two-year increments, but can be terminated at any time at the government’s discretion.

“Nobody has a right to deferred action,” attorney Winter Torres told the gathered crowd. “They can or cannot give it. It’s up to (Homeland Security).”

The requirements are strict. To be eligible, an immigrant must:

  • Be no younger than 15 and no older than 31 as of June 15 of this year
  • Have come to the United States before age 16
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, as well as at the time of making application for consideration for the program
  • Be currently in school or else have graduated from high school or gotten a GED, or have been honorably discharged from military service
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors
  • Not be considered any sort of threat to national security or public safety

Facebook can help prove eligibility

Proving an applicant meets all those criteria can be tricky. How do people prove they’ve been in this country continuously?

Attorneys suggest copies of school records, bank account statements, utility bills, phone bills, even Facebook postings can demonstrate their presence here.

In addition, applicants might need to submit fingerprints to the FBI to confirm their lack of a criminal record, and submit certified court records from every jurisdiction in which they have received misdemeanors, including traffic infractions.

Applying feels scary after years of secrecy

Even meeting all the criteria is no guarantee an applicant will be approved for the program. And even applying can feel scary to immigrants who’ve spent their lives keeping their undocumented status secret.

Furthermore, information supplied by those who are eventually denied can be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities.

“Everything could change after the election,” Hans Meyer, an attorney working with immigrants, told the audience. “It’s good to have a backup plan.”

An estimated 1.8 million young people nationwide may be eligible for the program. Ricardo Martinez, executive director of Padres & Jovenes Unidos, said there is a huge amount of interest in it locally.

“This is our first informational forum but other groups have hosted them, and they’ve all been attended by 150 to 200 people,” Martinez said. “And that’s just publicizing it through fliers and some phone calls. There’s a lot of anxiety out there, a lot of rumors. We wanted to bring out as much correct information as possible.”

Yuki Diaz, a senior at Summit Academy in Denver, already knows a lot about the program. She’s researched it and also intends to apply as soon as possible.

“I want to finish school, and get into medical school,” said Diaz, who came to this country from Mexico as a 9-year-old. “This is important because it confirms our place in a society that has been pushing us out.”

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