Mountain View Voice

News - September 7, 2012

Young immigrants seek reprieve through new Obama program

by Sue Dremann

Jose recalled the day his parents bundled him up for the move to California from Mexico. A powerfully built man in his early 20s, he still views the move as traumatic.

"They lied to me," he said, his voice wavering slightly. "They didn't say we were coming here. They said, 'We are going to the north. We are coming to the other side.'"

The result of that move, more than 15 years ago now, was that he sat on Sunday, Aug. 26, at an immigration clinic in Menlo Park, seeking ways to stay in the country where he's spent most of his life.

"Jose," who did not want to give his real name, was one of more than 400 people seeking advice and help with filling out applications for President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program began in June and temporarily stems deportation of undocumented immigrants ages 16 to 30 who were brought to the country as children.

People whose applications are accepted would be granted a two-year "reprieve" and could obtain work permits and apply for financial aid for schooling. The program could affect more than 1 million young people who would have qualified for the failed Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, according to some federal estimates.

To be eligible, immigrants must prove they arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16, have lived in the country for five years or more and be in school or have served in the military. They also cannot have been convicted of some crimes.

Sunday's event was so popular, people were turned away, said Ilyce Shugall, supervising immigration attorney for the nonprofit Community Legal Services. A second workshop is planned for Oct. 20 or 21.

The organization's staff hopes that the correct information will get out to people. Some advocacy groups have told people they won't need attorneys, but that could jeopardize some applicants' chances, Shugall said. Many people do not understand the potential pitfalls they could encounter.

Before the applications were even released, there were cases of fraud, with some notaries and attorneys telling people that for a hefty fee they could receive the application before others, Shugall said.

An East Palo Alto mother who attended Sunday's workshop said she knows people solicited by private attorneys for as much as $8,000 to help fill out the paperwork, although she has not been approached. She and her daughter have spent 1 months gathering the supporting paperwork they need to apply.

The daughter, who was 2 years old at the time of immigration, is a senior in high school and wants to attend a four-year college.

Adriana Gonzalez, consul in charge of legal protection for the Mexican consulate in San Francisco, said scams are common. The consulate is trying to make sure its citizens are not victims of fraud. At a table on Sunday, consulate workers distributed information on obtaining passports, birth records and information from valid websites.

"There have been many impostors, even impostor web pages," she said. She cautioned people to avoid websites with Web links that require money. Applicants are also confused about where to send their applications, she said. Many people do not realize that California residents must send the information to Phoenix, Ariz.

The consulate will be open to assist the public on Sept. 9 by appointment, she said.

One of the concerns some immigrants and their advocates have about Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is whether the information they provide will be used against them.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said it doesn't intend to disclose the information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which handles deportations. But there is nothing statutory within the program that protects people, Shugall said, and that concerns her. A change of administration could negate the entire program or could potentially change how the information might be used, she added.

Several applicants said they are aware of those possibilities.

Johana M. and her father came to the workshop from Newark in the East Bay. Her father said the program would allow her to get a driver's license and attend college.

"As parents, that is what we want for our child," he said, declining to give his name.

Johana said acceptance into the deferment program would allow her to apply for financial scholarships. She wants to attend a 4-year university and to major in criminal justice, she said.

But the process has many loopholes for the government to reject candidates, and she was seeking time with the attorneys so she will answer the questions accurately, she said.

"Some things are so specific, you have to get it right," she said.

At first she feared how the application information would be used, she said, but the pull of a good education has tempered that concern.

"It's worth the risk," she said.

Patricia Hernandez, 24, said she did not fear that her application would be used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport her. The process is also fairly straightforward for people who have a good paper trail, she said.

"Luckily, my mom saved everything," she said.

Hernandez is an architecture major studying in San Diego. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 5 years old. It would be unfair to deport her and other students to Mexico, she said.

"I was raised with the culture here and adapted here. I have no family there and I barely know the (Spanish) language. There are a lot of contributions I can make here," she said.

Looking back at the throng of people gathered in knots around volunteers who handed out applications in Spanish and English, she said she did not mind waiting. If her application is accepted, she will have the same opportunities as her classmates. For all of her years of hard work in school, she will finally be able to have a work permit, she said.

Hernandez said she is grateful to Obama.

"It was an amazing thing that he did," she said.

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