Area immigrants eager to take advantage of Obama directive
June 25, 2012
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A new directive from President Obama means tens of thousands of young immigrants on the Western Slope may be eligible to stay in the country without risk of deportation.But those who qualify under the deferred action program are being advised to sit tight for a couple more months until a formal process is in place, and to be wary of fraud in the meantime.Glenwood Springs immigration attorney Jennifer Smith said last week that she heard of one instance in which someone was asking to be paid $750 in exchange for securing a “place in line.”For now, there is no formal procedure, no forms to fill out and no fees being collected to start the process.The Obama administration gave federal immigration and customs officials 60 days to design a registration process, and it could take longer, Smith said.Until then, she said potential applicants should use the time to get the appropriate documentation in order and make sure they do, in fact, qualify.”This is an exciting time, and I look forward to using this new opportunity to help the kids I have worked with,” Smith said. “But the most important message now is to be careful of scams and where you get your information.”Smith has been working with American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and other organizations to provide advance information and warn about fraud.Another local immigration attorney, Ted Hess of the Hess & Schubert law firm, is also sponsoring an information session from 6-8 p.m. this Friday, June 29, at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.A steady stream of immigrant children and their parents lined up at Smith’s office Friday to learn more about the new program.On June 15, President Obama announced his executive order that will allow qualified immigrant children to apply for a two-year deferred action and worker permits.In order to qualify, an applicant must:• Have come to United States under the age of 16, and be at least 15 at the time of application.• Be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.• Have lived in the United States continuously for at least five years as of June 15.• Be in school, have graduated from high school, or have obtained a general education (GED) certificate.• Not have been convicted of any felony or significant misdemeanor offense, or otherwise be considered a threat to public safety or national security.
The president’s announcement was welcome news for the estimated 800,000 to 1.4 million “Dreamers” nationwide.The term “Dreamers” refers to the DREAM Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who completed high school.In late 2010, the DREAM Act passed in the House of Representatives and received 55 votes in the Senate. But it was never enacted because of a Senate filibuster.A local student activist group, Association of Students United in Action, or AJUA, organized in part to promote the DREAM Act.AJUA co-founder Alex Alvarado, a 2011 graduate of Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, called the president’s directive a “small victory.””Definitely, a lot of students in our valley would like to do whatever they can, as legally as they can, to be able to stay here,” said Alvarado, 19, a would-be DREAM candidate who expects to qualify under the new program.”Like the president said, we grew up here and are citizens in every respect except on paper,” Alvarado said.But the executive order falls short of what’s truly needed, he said.”It’s a step in the right direction, but definitely not what the immigrant population in general needs in the long run,” Alvarado said.”What we really need is for the DREAM Act to be passed, followed by comprehensive immigration reform that helps not only children of immigrants but their parents,” he said.Alvarado has been attending Colorado Mountain College and is hoping to pursue an education degree at Metro State in Denver. He also applauded Metro’s recent move to create a special tuition rate for undocumented immigrant students who graduated from high school in Colorado.”It’s really exciting to see a school take an action like that, and hopefully it will affect a lot of other schools around the state,” he said.Lizbeth Sanchez, 21, of Grand Junction, attended the information session at Smith’s office on Friday. She also expects to qualify under the new program.”This is my home, and I want to be able to take advantage of the opportunities,” said Sanchez, who has been in the U.S. for 15 years.”I’m pretty happy that we have this opportunity, because I want to go to beauty school, and I can’t apply for a license to do hair until I can get a work permit,” she said.
There are some risks in entering the process to take advantage of the new deferred action program, Smith said during her presentation.”This is a serious process, and cases can be denied,” she said. “There is a risk that you can be put into deportation proceedings if your case is denied.”She also warned would-be applicants against providing fraudulent information in an effort to qualify.”Because this is such an emotional issue, there is a concern for fraud by those who are applying,” Smith said. “Don’t lie, because we don’t want a few to ruin it for the rest.”Smith said there are also a lot of unanswered questions about the program, such as which minor criminal offenses might disqualify a person or whether a charge that did not lead to a conviction could negatively affect a person’s chances.”You have to look at those things,” she said. “This may not be the right choice or the best choice for everyone.”Smith’s and other immigration law firms plan to offer registration drives once the process is formally initiated by the federal government.Until then, Smith suggested a list of necessary documents and other items applicants are likely to need, including:• Birth certificate and English translation• Passport from their home country• Criminal background fingerprint check• Proof of entry into the U.S. prior to age 16• Proof of continuous residence in the U.S. for the past five years• School and graduation records, diploma or GED• List of all schools, residences and employment since entering the U.S.• Biographic family information, including address in home countrySmith plans to provide regular updates on the process on her firm’s website at http://email@example.com