For the past two months, at least hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants have been rushing to compile the paperwork they'll need to apply for deferred action, a form of temporary legal status that's part of a new Obama administration policy announced in June. More than a million young people who arrived in the United States before age 16 could begin applying come Wednesday, when the federal applications become available.
It's a complicated process, though. There are strict criteria involving age (those who were over 30 as of June 15 can't apply), the applicant's date of illegal entry or loss of legal status, criminal history and other aspects. There are also concerns about cost, not only for critics of the plan, but for applicants, as it isn't cheap - there is a $465 processing fee to apply.
And while those who qualify may apply for work permits, a boon to young undocumented immigrants who have college degrees but can't use them, there are no long-term guarantees: Deferred action is only temporary, renewable after two years, does not lead to permanent legal residence or citizenship, and the program could be dropped if there is a change in administration.
As the application date nears, here are a few highlights from this site and others with details on the deferred action process and what it's going to entail.
- Requirements: Those eligible for deferred action must have arrived in the United States before age 16, have been no older than 30 as of last June 15, have a record free of felonies or serious misdemeanors and have lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007, although new guidelines recently clarified that “brief, casual and innocent” trips abroad should not disqualify them. Complete details on eligibility criteria are at uscis.gov.
- Cost: Applicants must pay a processing fee of $465, although a limited number may be able to obtain waivers. Estimates have placed to the total cost of implementing deferred action at more than $500 million, with costs driven largely by the staff hours it will take to process paperwork. Federal officials say the application fees should cover much of the cost.
- Questions: Since the program was announced in June, there have been countless questions, especially from young people who aren't sure if they qualify, or who come close to qualifying but have some sort of outstanding issue - for example, they are slightly too old. A Q&A with a legal expert addressed this question recently; since then, readers have written in with a series of other questions, which have been answered here and here.
- Dangers: The application process is being considered confidential, but the idea of coming out of the shadows is enough to make some too wary to come forward. And those with certain criminal offenses on their record will need to be aware of how they might affect their prospects, as coming forward could be risky for them. Perhaps the biggest overall danger is that of scams targeting hopeful applicants. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a link to a tip sheet on how to avoid immigration scams.
The applications will be available online Wednesday. More details are available here.