Over the last few days, my KPCC colleague Ruxandra Guidi and I have spoken with several young people planning to apply for deferred action, temporary legal status that will allow those who qualify to avoid deportation for two years and obtain a work permit.
The new policy, announced two months ago by the Obama administration, isn't a cure-all for young undocumented immigrants, some of whom have been here since infancy. There is no path to citizenship or permanent legal status, for starters, and there is no guarantee the program will continue long-term, especially if there is a change of administration.
Deferred action must also be renewed every two years. The requirements are strict: Among other things, applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before turning 16, have been no older than 30 as of last June 15, have a clean record and be able to prove they have been living in the United States for at least five years.
And it's expensive to apply, costing each applicant $465.
Still, for young immigrants who have been lining up around the country to attend instructional workshops at advocacy offices and foreign consulates, consulting with attorneys, and downloading applications online as of yesterday afternoon, it's worth the trouble.
Now that the application period has begun, they are hoping for the best. Some are looking forward to using their college degrees, others looking forward to working legally in order to pay for tuition and help their families. Some are still skeptical, afraid of being deported if things don't work out. Here's what a few of them had to say.
Jose Alberto Saldivar, 29, who dropped out of Antelope Valley College in Lancaster after tuition went up and he could no longer afford it:
“I’ve been a diesel mechanic and ever since I’ve been struggling because I’ve been driving with no license. I’m very, very cautious, and even at work, sometimes they have to lay me off; they have to fire me because I didn’t prove that I have a driver’s license. And then I have to look for another job, and you know, keep doing the same thing.”
Claudia Naranjo, 20, an aspiring architect who hopes to transfer from Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier to the University of Southern California; her younger brother is applying for deferred action as well:
"We see how my dad has struggled to raise us...Finally, we can bring money into the house, help pay bills, pay for our own studies, and not rely on my dad so much."
Irvin Pacheco, 24, who attended Antelope Valley College in as a music major and hopes to eventually be able to attend UC Berkeley:
“My hope is to actually just start working so I can go back to school. I want to be a professor in music, and right now, schooling is really expensive. And not having a working permit nowadays, it’s just like minimum wage or just doing construction, and that doesn’t comply with school schedules.”
Bupendra Ram, 23, a Cal State Fullerton business graduate, now working on a master's degree:
“I will be applying — I do have all my documents together. I just need to get my birth certificate from Fiji. But I think it’s an opportunity, if anything, to go into these communities and present my story and the various opportunities that are available to people within that community."
Erick Huerta, 28, who majored in journalism at East L.A. College and is still on the fence about applying, fearing potential risks:
"We’re pretty much giving them all of our information, where we’re going to be at, who we are. ... We’re giving them all this data. And it’s really scary, because this is the government.”
Details and guidelines for the deferred action process are at uscis.gov.