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Cautious hope as Twin Cities immigrant students apply for deferred action
The pieces of Morelos, Mexico that remain in 18-year-old Oscar Martinez’s memories include himself on horseback at two years old, the death of a nameless dog, and the creek he crossed on his way to a crowded schoolhouse.
His border crossing, too, exists now only in glimpses. He remembers a truck driving into the desert. He recalls a coyote’s gun pointed at his head when he complained of the heat. For a while he walked. Before he knew it, there was snow everywhere and smiling faces.
Martinez has lived in Minnesota for 14 years now. As an intern at an immigration law firm, he’s already started the process of applying for deferred action. Deferred action will give a temporary reprieve to young people who entered the country as children but do not have legal residence here. Those who apply and are granted deferred action will have a two year permit to work, attend school and drive legally in the streets they call home without fear of deportation.
President Barack Obama’s June 13 policy change gives this opportunity to an estimated 2,100 to 4,000 young Minnesotans and up to 1.7 million U.S. residents. It does not give them a pathway to legal residence or citizenship — that would take an act of Congress — but it does give two years of breathing space.
Upcoming Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota community workshops on deferred action:
8/25/2012 10 a.m. West Learning Center, Worthington, MN
Last Tuesday, August 15, was the first day for young immigrants to apply, and on Saturday morning, more than 500 people crowded into Green Central elementary school’s auditorium to meet with lawyers from the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and learn more about what the new policy will mean for them. Skepticism colored the cautious hope that many in the room shared.
A father of two, who asked that his name not be printed, told the Daily Planet in Spanish, “It doesn’t have much, but something is something.” He added, “Two years go by fast.”
“It is, in its most hopeful sense, two years of protection with renewal. In its most short-lived sense, it rises and falls with the presidential election,” said Immigrant Law Center executive director John Keller.
Still, the action is one of very few positive notes in a long decade of immigration policies that have hit the Twin Cities Latino immigrant community hard. “I feel like it’s a small step to a larger, bigger deal,” said Roosevelt High student Reyna Martinez. “Instead of feeling helpless and discouraged, [students] will feel encouraged to keep moving forward.”
The small print
Deferred Action comes in the wake of more than 10 years of failed legislative attempts to pass the DREAM Act, which would pave a pathway to citizenship for virtually the same group of young people who qualify for deferred action. They include individuals under age 31, who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16, who are still here five years later. To qualify for deferred action, immigrants must also possess a high school diploma or GED, a fairly clean record, $465 and a long paper trail.
With all the small print involved, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota is urging applicants to talk to a lawyer before applying. Keller predicts that the Department of Homeland Security will take months to process applications. One missing document could restart the whole process.
Although immigrants’ information won’t be shared with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents, Keller said individuals with a criminal record, or even a DUI, will not qualify.
Keller’s organization works with clients who can’t afford the $1,000 to $4,000 private attorneys charge, and who want to avoid the often sketchy advice of cheaper “notarios.” ILCM clients must meet certain income qualifications and attend an information session like the one held Saturday. (See sidebar.)
To help the ILCM deal with an already huge influx in clients, the Minneapolis Foundation launched the DREAMers fund this week. The fund, with $200,000 already in its coffers and a fundraising goal of $500,000, will pay for 850 people to get legal advice from ILCM. The foundation argues that such a fund will help Minnesota employers welcome valuable employees into the workforce.
A rush of hope
When she heard about deferred action, 23-year-old Rubi Quiterio began preparing to go back to get her high school diploma. In the past Quiterio figured she’d never be able to afford college since undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for federal financial aid. She never bothered finishing high school.
Now, although deferred action doesn’t change tuition rates for undocumented students, Quiterio thinks she might someday have a shot at fulfilling her dream of earning a college degree.
Deferred action is no DREAM Act. Under the federal Development Relief and Education of Alien Minors act, qualifying young people would have six years to complete two years of college or two years in the military, at which point they would get permanent residency. It would also open up opportunities for undocumented college students to qualify for more financial aid. Such a thing would require federal legislative action to change immigration law.
A different, state-level Dream Act would have Minnesota colleges charge in-state tuition rates to undocumented students who fit certain criteria.
Despite some close calls, neither of those laws has passed yet.
“Deferred action — it’s a great step in the right direction. It is going to incentivize students to be more hopeful about their future, to stay in school and graduate, and hopefully follow their dreams to go to college,” said Juventino Meza, executive director of NAVIGATE, an organization that works with undocumented students across Minnesota.
“Deferred action happened because of students,” said Meza. “Students are the ones who pushed everyone’s buttons.”
Oscar Martinez is already on his way to fulfilling his dreams. He graduated from Roosevelt High this June, and, although he lacks the social security number required to fill out a FAFSA, Martinez earned enough scholarships to pay for nearly all of his tuition at Augsburg next year. He’s thinking about going pre-med. Martinez said, “I already have the electricity. Deferred action is like a conductor so I can spread it even more.”
To donate to the DREAMers fund, go to giveMN.org or send a check to The Minneapolis Foundation, 800 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis MN 55402
© 2012 Alleen Brown