After DREAM activists courageously staged sit-ins at Obama for America campaign offices in multiple cities, the President announced earlier this month on June 15 a policy change affecting undocumented youth. Not an executive order as Know Nothings whine, the move nevertheless pressured the Deporter-in-Chief from below and gained concessions in the run-up to an election year.
"I think it is an excellent first step," says Western State Law professor and Immigration Clinic Director Jennifer Koh. "This doesn't offer a pathway to citizenship, however, or lawful permanent residence. Ultimately, I think Congress does need to act to institute comprehensive immigration reform."
Until that time, should it ever arrive, the opportunity for temporary non-deportation and work permits has brought everything from excitement, doubts, and most importantly questions. On that last point, the Orange County DREAM Team (OCDT) in collaboration with RAIZ will be hosting the first of many free educational forums tomorrow night in Garden Grove.
"The reason it's important is to let the community know and not get scammed," says DREAM team member Maria Pablo. "We want to inform people about the benefits of it and at the same time what can happen if the application is not approved." To that end, activists will make presentations and Koh will be on hand for an important question-and-answer session.
As it stands now, the internal memorandum has set out a criteria of eligibility. Potential applicants must be at least 15 years of age and have entered the U.S. before turning 16. Those whose 31st birthday came after Obama's announcement are ineligible as continuous presence, education, military and criminal histories factor into the rest of the parameters as they are now.
Clarifications are forthcoming, especially with ambiguously worded disqualifiers such as 'significant misdemeanors.' "I think that is going to be one of the key issues that people are going to have to look at closely," says Koh, noting that more detailed instructions and standards will be provided around mid-August. "I think the expectation is that when that guidance comes out, we'll have a better sense of how somebody's past interaction with the police or the criminal justice system could effect their ability to get deferred action and get work authorization under this policy. "
With no regard for patience, advertisements have already surfaced promising fast access for work permits as Koh issues a warning for those would take up such offers. "There are a lot of people out there who are ready to prey on the immigrant community," she says. "The government has already said in the next sixty days nobody should try to apply for anything."
With the urgency of young people's predicaments, the law professor also cautions against anyone in removal proceedings ignoring critical court dates in this policy purgatory period. "People currently in removal proceedings need to speak with their lawyers and try to ensure that they are not deported within the sixty-day time frame."
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Even once mid-August arrives, anxieties will continue until the election and beyond. What will happen after the two year deferment? What if Mitt Romney wins the Presidency? Could self-identifying as undocumented to the government potentially put a person at risk of deportation within the context of the Obama policy as structured anyway?
"It is kind of risky. We don't know if Obama will remain President. We wouldn't know exactly what could happen after the elections and what would happen to us," Pablo ponders. "I as an undocumented student, it is a concern in the back of mind. I am willing to take it on and as a member of the Orange County DREAM Team, we will continue to fight until there is full legalization."
Orange County DREAM Team and RAIZ's Administrative Relief Education Forum takes place tomorrow at the offices of Unite Here!, 13252 Garden Grove Blvd, Garden Grove, 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. Free.