Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'In the shadows without hope': On being too old for deferred action

Photo by stevechihos/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Since Wednesday, young undocumented immigrants have been filling out and sending in applications for deferred action, a form of temporary legal status under a new Obama administration plan that will allow those who qualify to obtain work permits and be protected from deportation, at least for two years until they have to renew.

But for some who would otherwise qualify, the news came a little too late. Among other requirements, like having a clean record and having resided in the United States for at least five years, applicants need to have been under 16 when they arrived in the country, and must have been no older than 30 when the policy was announced last June 15.

A post last month titled "You're too old for deferred action - now what?" addressed what might happen to those who missed the age criteria, but have still been in the U.S. since they were children. The final rules were not out yet then, leaving room for a small amount of hope for these so-called "elder DREAMers," so named because they would have benefited from the original Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act introduced in 2001.

Now that the rules have been made clear, they are watching peers apply for a potentially life-changing program while they can't. This week, a reader who posted as Mansgame wrote a lengthy comment* that captured the difficult feelings some are grappling with:

The age limit is truly heart breaking. I have a "friend" who has been in the U.S. since he was 10, actually missed the original amnesty by a few months. An uncle of his was supposed to adopt him, etc. but never followed through and by then he had nowhere else to go back to.

Before he knew it, high school was over and he was out of luck while watching his friends go to college. He moved to a more immigrant-friendly state and got a driver's license, and eventually found a way to go to college. He still was fortunate enough to be grandfathered under Exclusion so he CAN ask for his status to be readjusted, and while in college he found an employer willing to sponsor him after he finished college. There was also talk about the Dream Act and immigration reform in general so things were hopeful.

Then 9/11 happened. The dot-com bubble burst. No sponsorships. Immigrants were being hunted down without mercy. He decided to go back to school again, and hopefully the Dream Act would pass. By now, he had been here about 20 years. He barely even remembers his home country and would probably end up in jail if he ever went back.

After graduation, things get worse. Not only the Dream Act never passes, but states start to make life hard for immigrants. They require immigration checks to renew driver's licenses. States like Arizona ask to see papers of random people. Politicians show how great they are by how mean they are to undocumented workers.

Today, 27 years later, deferred action is here, but it excludes my "friend." He gets to watch 18-year-olds who have been here for five years with bright smiles thanking God that their hardship of five years is over, yet those who have suffered for 27 years like him (and I'm sure there are some who have been here even longer and are now 42, if they came here at 15 in 1986) get to stay in the shadows without hope.

It's almost like being in a dog pound and seeing people rescuing puppies while the older dogs who have waited for long times be put to sleep. It's not fair. To add insult to injury, there are many who have GEDs who will qualify for this while the older dreamers with graduate degrees who can contribute to the U.S. economy right away can't do it.

This needs to be retroactive. There is no justification for leaving out the elder dreamers.

The original post can be read here.

*Copyedited for clarity.