Undocumented Immigrants Apply for Deportation Reprieve

Story by Sean Powers, with additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio and The Associated Press
August 15, 2012

It is estimated that more than a million illegal immigrants could be eligible for a new program available on Wednesday through the Department of Homeland Security. The policy, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, would let illegal immigrants stay in the U.S. and get a two-year work permit.

Among the requirements for the program, applicants must be 30-years-old or younger, demonstrate that they arrived in the United States before turning 16, and they have lived in the country continuously for five years. They also must be a student or graduate or have served in the military, among other requirements.

Bloomington resident Maria Guerrero, 18, is an undocumented immigrant, who came to the United States when she was eight. She is attending Heartland Community College in Normal, and aspires to be a psychiatrist. Guerrero said she plans on applying for the immigration program.

“Well, it’s a big importance," Guerrero said. "I could finally be able to have a good social security. I can drive without any worries. I can finally have a lot of opportunities.”

In Chicago, thousands of young undocumented immigrants lined up Wednesday at Navy Pier for help with paperwork as the Department of Homeland Security began taking applications for deportation deferrals and work permits under the new policy.

Elizabeth Espinosa, a Chicago resident who arrived at Navy Pier hours before the event's 9 a.m. start time, said she was applying so she could attend college to become a registered nurse.

“It means not just equality, but ... a better hope for us and our future children,” Espinosa said. “It means so much more than just a piece of paper. It means our whole lives.”

President Barack Obama authorized the policy after attempts at passing similar legislation failed. Critics of the program have called the policy backdoor amnesty, saying it could lead to fraud. Republicans have called the policy an election-year maneuver that bypasses Congress and favors illegal immigrants over U.S. citizens.

Mitt Romney — the party’s presumed presidential nominee — has talked about vetoing the Dream Act if it were ever passed and has suggested pushing undocumented immigrants, as he puts it, to “self-deport.” Romney has not promised to keep Obama’s deferred-action policy in place.

The election and its possible impact on the deferred-action policy has Chicago immigration attorney Robert Cotter calling the public event at Navy Pier “reckless.” He adds that the immigrants ought to wait to submit the paperwork until they see who wins November’s election.

“We could have a new president, Cotter said. “That new president could undo what’s been done in one day. One signature could undo everything. So I’m counseling my clients, ‘Look, you survived this far. If you can wait another 10 - 11 weeks, you’re going to be a lot more certain that you’re really going to get that work permit and that you’re not going to get a notice to appear in immigration court.’”

That sentiment didn’t sit well with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the principal sponsors of the Dream Act. The senator attended Wednesday’s event and gestured to hundreds of young people filling out their applicants in the ballroom, saying it will be politically unfeasible to reverse this policy.

“I will tell you the force that they are creating is a moral force here, beyond a legal force,” Durbin said. “It is a moral force that, I believe, that as the American people support this 2 to 1, that’s what the polls tell us. They will support these young people being protected. If someone later comes along and tries to exploit the fact that they did the right thing, they did what they were told legally.”

Immigrant advocates and others cautioned that the applications for deferred-action include all sorts of things — fingerprints, information about family members — that would be useful for deporting people.

The Department of Homeland Security says it won’t use such information for enforcement unless there’s evidence of criminal activity.

Story source: WILL