Victor, 18, was only four years old when his parents brought him into the United States illegally. He was far too young to have made that choice, which is why he approves of the Obama Administration’s new executive action, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The executive action allows qualified applicants to temporarily avoid deportation, get a driver’s license and work or go to school, according to Jo-Anne Stately, director of grantmaking and special projects at The Minneapolis Foundation. The organization is raising funds to help young immigrants take advantage of the new opportunity.
Victor, who asked that his last name not be used due to his illegal status, is now hoping to get a job and finally take the GED test, which requires having identification.
“I think the program is a great opportunity for teenagers brought here at a young age,” Victor said. He has spent years pursuing citizenship and is relieved he can apply for the deferred action status while his case moves forward.
Fund provides legal advice
Receiving the deferred action status is complicated, however. Applicants must meet a list of requirements, and Stately recommends that each case be reviewed by an immigration lawyer before applying. To help cover the costs of consulting an attorney, the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota and The Minneapolis Foundation created a fund called The Minnesota DREAMer’s Fund.
The groups hope to raise $500,000 for the fund. So far, $200,000 has been raised. Stately said 700 people have already applied for help.
The fund will pay for young immigrants to meet with lawyers at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. To start the process, immigrants must attend workshops. The next workshops take in place in Melrose on Sept. 11 and in Northfield on Sept. 19, and will only be serving rural residents. More workshops for suburban and urban immigrants will take place but haven’t yet been scheduled, Stately said.
|To qualify for a deferred action status candidates must meet these requirements:
Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
Information about the workshops can be found on the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s website.
Selena Britzius-Negash, the law center’s program director, said some people worry that applications for deferred action could make trouble for family members who also are in the U.S. illegally, possibly leading to deportation.
The application form does not request parents’ names, but documents such as school records could provide parent information. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says parent information will not be provided to the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security unless the parent is considered a priority for removal from the United States.
A parent may be considered a priority for removal if he or she has prior immigration violations, criminal convictions, or if the parent is considered a danger to national security. This risk is another important reason why youth applying for deferred action should first consult with an attorney, Stately said.
Obama used executive power
President Barack Obama bypassed Congress and used executive authority to offer the deferred action status “to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website..
Opponents of the executive action say Obama overstepped his authority and is favoring illegal immigrants when many Americans are unemployed.
Stately also warns that there are people who offer to help with immigration cases but aren’t qualified. “They just take the money. We are trying to warn people of opportunists that will take advantage of youth,” she said.
Small risk, big pay-off
Despite the risks, Stately said young immigrants should apply for deferment. Being able to live and work legally in the U.S. could change their lives, she said.
“Many [immigrants] have been here for a long time and consider this their home,” Stately said. “They consider themselves to be Americans and citizens even though they don’t have legal status.”
Victor said he thinks the fund is a great way to help low-income families afford the costs of applying.
“I want this so I can take care of my son and give him a good place to be raised,” Victor said of his newborn son, who is a citizen. “He is my life, so he is my inspiration.”