More than a million young undocumented immigrants (almost half a million could be eligible in California alone) are expected to begin applying Wednesday for temporary legal status known as deferred action. The plan is part of a new immigration policy that will give those who qualify protection from deportation for two years and the ability to get work permits.
The requirements are strict. Among other things, applicants must have arrived in the United States before age 16, not have committed any serious crimes, have lived in the U.S. continuously for five years and have been under 31 as last of June 15, when the Obama administration announced the plan.
Fullerton College student body president Maria Duque was five when her parents brought her to the U.S. from Ecuador. She starts classes at UCLA this fall, on her way to law school.
She said to give back to the country that is close to her heart "is all I have ever wanted."
"[I feel] like an American citizen," she said. "I feel like this is my home."
At the Mexican Consulate near downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, hundreds of hopeful applicants streamed in and out of deferred action applicant workshops all morning. Like 24-year-old Irvin Pacheco, who drove in from Palmdale, they listened to legal advice from attorneys and made sure that they have everything they need to apply starting Wednesday.
“I am as ready as I could be,” said Pacheco, who arrived in the United States at age three and has attended community college while working under-the-table jobs, including construction. “I have all of my diplomas, anything they would ask for. I have my [associate degree] in college, so if they need that, I will give them that. Anything to prove that I have been here as long as they have asked us.”
Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer warns about scams. She says if somebody knocks on your door and says, "Oh, I’m a genius, I know how to do this, just give me $1,000,” you shouldn't fall for it.
Since Obama announced the plan on June 15, immigration attorneys have been fielding questions as the government has gradually released details. Noemi Ramirez was one of several attorneys at the consulate Tuesday, where she prepared to speak to a room packed with potential applicants and their families.
Most of the questions she’s heard from prospective applicants so far revolve around what sort of documents they’ll need to qualify, especially when it comes to proving they have spent at least five years in the U.S.
“One important factor that most of them do not understand... is when the requirements say you need five years of continuous residence,” Ramirez said. “I see that most of the students or most who apply don’t understand what that means.”
“Immigration wants concrete evidence,” she said. “They will not accept affidavits. So they want anything that is an objective type of documentation, like school transcripts, bills, bank statements.”
Don Lyster of the National Immigration Law Center says the directive could be pulled at any time. He encourages anyone who qualifies to apply, no matter the result of November's presidential election.
"We believe it is highly unlikely that [a new administration] would go after individuals who have benefited," he said. "That, in our minds, would be political suicide and Dreamers would mobilize to prevent this."
As it stands, deferred action can be renewed after two years, but it doesn’t provide a path to citizenship, and no one knows for sure if the policy will continue long-term, especially if there is a change of administration after November. But for people like Irvin Pacheco, who wants to transfer to UC Berkeley and become a music professor someday, it’s worth the trouble.
This is a great opportunity and a great day for me, and a lot of people,” Pacheco said.
Boxer says the program is neither comprehensive immigration reform or the Dream Act. Still, she calls Wednesday an “important day.”