Marcos and Maria are proud of their 15-year-old son. The ninth grader is gifted academically and aims to get his college degree. He even received a certificate signed by President Barack Obama recognizing his performance.
Yet Marcos and Maria can never be entirely comfortable about their son’s future. The couple, whose last name is being withheld because of their immigration status, brought their son to the country illegally when he was 2 years old.
That’s why they stopped by Eisenhower Community Center on Monday to learn about a new federal law that sets aside immigration action against individuals who came to the United States illegally as children.
“It’s a great opportunity to continue his studies,” Maria said through a school district interpreter.
The “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” program began with a presidential memo signed June 15 and opened for applications Aug. 15. Those who are granted deferred action status will not face deportation for two years, with a possibility of renewing that status when the two-year period is over. They may also apply for such modern-day necessities as a work permit, driver’s license and Social Security number.
“Once they get this, they’re out of the shadows. They’re able to get a license. They’re able to get a job,” said Attorney Mary Elizabeth Baquero—whose firm, the Baquero Law Office, provided information at the meeting. “Bottom line: Who’s against the youth? (The school district) wants them to go to school. They want them to get a job. They want them to succeed.”
But the application process is not a straightforward one.
“We decided to host the question and answer session because we’re getting DACA calls and so were the interpreters,” said ResourceWest Executive Director Judy Elling, whose nonprofit organized the information session.
Baquero detailed some of the requirements.
- Applicants must have come to the United States before they were 16 and be younger than 31 on June 15.
- They must’ve lived in the country continuously since June 15, 2007.
- They must be in school, have a high school diploma or GED or be a veteran of the Coast Guard or military.
- They must not have been convicted of a felony, “significant misdemeanor” or three or more other misdemeanors.
Proving all this requires a binder of documentation.
The process is not cheap either. There’s a $465 application fee. Because of the high stakes, many applicants hire lawyers to help them navigate the process.
The Baquero Law Office charges potential applicants $100 to pick up a questionnaire with relevant questions and $500 when they return the filled-in questionnaire. The law office then schedules an appointment for them within two weeks, at which time they must pay $400 and provide a money order for the $465 application fee.
By the time the process is complete, applicants will have paid $1,465.
Baquero told the attendees that many people are able to apply for deferred action without a lawyer.
But cost was far from the only concern.
Some asked what would happen after the election. Would a Romney win eliminate the program? The attorneys said elimination was unlikely—and that even if was cut, officials wouldn’t stop it right away.
Others questioned what the government would do with all the information the illegal immigrants had to submit.
“What is the protection that the government gives to the parents because they’re saying, ‘I am illegal’?” one woman asked. “A lot of people are afraid to apply for that.”
Baquero noted that the paperwork says the information won’t be used to deport applicants.
After the meeting was over, Marcos and Maria said they’d had those worries, too. But they still saw the program as an opportunity for their son.
“I am nervous that after two years this program will end,” Marcos said through the interpreter.