Young unauthorized immigrants may apply for deferred action
The re-election of President Barack Obama means more young unauthorized immigrants living under a cloud of fear in Grand Junction may be coming forward to apply for the recently created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“I think the program will remain in place until something better comes along,” said Attorney Imelda Mulholland with Grand Junction-based Hoskin, Farina & Kampf.
Prior to the election, the program put in place this summer that provides temporary relief and work permits for immigrants who entered the country as children and meet certain guidelines stood on shaky ground.
Of the nearly 1 million eligible, only 179,794 had applied nationally by October and 4,591 had been approved.
“A lot of kids were afraid to do it before the election,” said Mulholland, who has about 40 clients in the process.
If accepted, immigrants in the two-year program that could be renewed would not be deported and could be eligible to work legally, but it would leave them no path to residency or citizenship. Mulholland explained it as a protective bubble, but the applicant would still have no status.
Grand Junction High School English as a Second Language teacher Cheyanne Gentry, who works with students from Africa, China, Mexico and other countries, is seeing the hope those children now have.
“They just want to be safe and live their lives, and this Deferred Action is their yellow brick road to home,” she said. “This is the only home they know. … (Deportation) would be like sending me to Africa or China. I know nothing about it.”
All of the students she has worked with in her five years at the high school have graduated, and many have done so with added obstacles such as working a full-time job, she said.
“They’re just kids,” said Gentry, who has a dual endorsement graduate degree in special education and linguistic cultural diversity. “They haven’t done anything wrong.”
In fact, many are too young to understand or even remember entry into the U.S. and grew up believing this is their home country, according to those who work with this population locally.
“A lot don’t find out they are not American until they apply for college and they ask their parents for their Social Security number,” said Eddie Soto, the Western Slope organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
That’s when parents have the tough conversation with them, he said.
Within Colorado, the estimate is that 200,000 immigrants could apply for the program, Soto said. Immigrants from Mexico, Eastern Europe, Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala were represented at informational meetings held about the process in Grand Junction.
Local immigration lawyers say the program would lift a huge stress from an applicant’s shoulders. There are certain eligibility requirements, however, that applicants must meet.
These include being under the age of 31 as of June 15 and being able to prove their presence on that day, entering the U.S. before the age of 16 and having continually resided here for more than five years. Also, the applicant must be in school, have graduated or obtained a GED, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or armed forces, and have not been convicted of a felony, “significant” misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors.
Grand Junction immigration attorneys Sandra Stanley, of Shaver and Stanley LLC, and Mulholland both have clients who fit the strict requirements. Many applying were not interested in speaking with the media, given their fear of repercussions.
However, their lawyers used words such as “exemplary” and “honor roll students” to describe them.
Both Mulholland and Stanley urge anyone considering applying for the program to consult a qualified attorney. And while Mulholland believes the program represents a great opportunity for immigrants, “it doesn’t go nearly far enough to give people what they need.”
The coalition issued a news release last week calling on Obama to work immediately to pass “a just, humane and comprehensive immigration reform.”
“We want a full path to citizenship. This is an OK first step,” said Soto, adding that the Dream Act has been lingering for about 12 years. “It’s our duty to say, ‘I’m not scared’ until they accept me for who I am, and that’s an American. Most believe in the American dream more than Americans. We want them in our country. We don’t want them to hide.”