Area youths praise Obama's immigration decision
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2012
6/24/12 at 7:10 AM
Read related stories and watch a video about immigration issues.
Evan thought his friend was having a late-night breakdown last week.
"I got a call at 3 a.m. and she was screaming and going crazy," he said with a laugh. "I honestly thought she was drunk."
That friend was the first of many the following day calling with congratulations and support.
The 25-year-old Tulsa high school graduate may be getting a chance to live in the U.S. legally.
"It was really exciting but weird," Evan said. "I didn't think anything like this was going to happen. And I thought the entire day about how this is going to change my life. I know it's just a work permit, but that will make a great difference for me."
'Drive and get cool jobs'
President Barack Obama announced a shift in immigration policy that gives relief to undocumented children and youths who came to the U.S. with their parents and led law-abiding lives.
Using executive power, the move will stop deportations of youths and allow for two-year work permits for teenagers and graduates meeting certain criteria.
Evan appears to meet the requirements and is pulling together his paperwork. He is two classes shy of a college journalism degree and four classes away from a sociology degree.
Because he did not qualify for government-backed loans or scholarships, he has paid his way through school one class at a time, using money from minimum-wage, fast-food jobs.
"I will be able to do what my friends do - drive and get cool jobs," Evan said. "I won't have to work in restaurants anymore. I've spent a long time getting my degree, but it was worth it and it's something no one can take from me."
Evan has been active in the DREAM Act Oklahoma organization, which is a grass-roots organization pushing for the passage of legislation aimed to help children and youths who were brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents.
The group has been working phones, putting up fliers and organizing community information meetings about Obama's directive.
"We just really want to get the word out," said Tracy Medina, former president of the group. "We're really concerned about making sure everyone gets the right information."
For Evan and about 1 million youths in the U.S., the president's action means hope.
For others, it signals doom.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a national group fighting for tighter restrictions and enforcement, calls it an "imperial amnesty decree." Founder Ben Stein calls it political pandering, abuse of presidential power, backdoor amnesty, shredding of the Constitution and rejection of the rule of law.
Evan said he gets the political connection.
"I don't think all this came out of nowhere," he said. "Obama is running a tough campaign for re-election, so sure, he's trying to get the Latino vote. It's politics."
The Tulsa World is not using Evan's real name because of deportation fears. He hopes that changes within months.
"It's been mostly a secret, with only people close to me knowing about it," Evan said. "But my friends are seeing me more as an activist and are asking me why. I explain what the DREAM Act is, tell my story and say I hope it doesn't get in the way of our friendship. I tell them it's nothing to be scared of."
So far, Evan has not lost a friend.
Giving Congress time
Oklahoma attorney T. Douglas Stump, president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said past presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have exercised deferred action, meaning this is within Obama's power.
Stump said the move gives time for Congress to reach a consensus on the DREAM Act by taking the immediate threat of deportation off the table. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation in 2010, but it failed in the Senate.
"Deferred action is not amnesty," Stump said. "Deferred action is not immunity. Deferred action is not permanent. Deferred action is not a pathway to a green card or citizenship. Deferred action is not legal status. Youths that qualify cannot vote or petition for family members."
Under Obama's administration, deportations hit record highs, according to a nonprofit clearinghouse, leading to massive backlogs of cases in immigration courts and longer wait times for hearings.
In August, his administration announced a program to reduce the backlog by identifying cases to be dismissed or put on hold through the use of prosecutorial discretion. The move was to focus on immigrants engaged in criminal behavior intending to harm the country.
Nationally, by the end of May, about 4,600 cases were closed based on prosecutorial discretion, which is about 1.5 percent of the total cases pending, according to the nonprofit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
In Oklahoma, nine cases have been closed under this program.
The number of removal orders from the courts has declined nationally, but Oklahoma lags in that trend, the nonprofit found. Half of U.S. immigration cases result in deportation while Oklahoma deports between 76 percent to 97 percent of immigrant defendants.
Oklahoma is part of the Dallas regional office. The administrative judges are part of the U.S. Department of Justice, while prosecutors are from Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Jobs and education
The agency has 60 days to create the application, which could lead to young immigrants obtaining work authorization, Social Security numbers and drivers licenses valid for two years.
"Deferred action will afford these young people opportunities to start new businesses, staff our nursing homes, health-care facilities and hotel and restaurant industries, and contribute to our country by paying taxes," Stump said. "The decision by the administration will allow these children to attend school and work, and will be a positive factor in keeping them from joining gangs."
Stump warns against "notarios" and other fly-by-night immigration operations.
"There will be no appeal process for denials, so the public should make certain to avoid unscrupulous notaries who have a history of popping up in these scenarios only to take money and run," Stump said.
Stump is quick to point out his Republican affiliation.
"Putting people to work, implementing efforts to reduce crime and focusing deportation strategies on criminal aliens is a conservative agenda," Stump said. "Republican leadership previously supported the DREAM Act, and to criticize this decision now does not speak well for my party."
None of the Oklahoma congressional delegation supported the bill. Both senators have voiced opposition.
'I now have options'
Evan crossed the border illegally at age 14 with his mother, who wanted to reunite with her husband in Tulsa. The two made their way from Veracruz, Mexico, to hook up with a human smuggler at a cost of $2,400 to get into Arizona.
Upon arrival, Evan's pants were torn to shorts, and his feet were covered in blisters. He and his mother were dropped off by a bus at 31st Street and Mingo Road and reunited with his father.
Evan was placed in English as a Second Language classes in a Tulsa-area school and was fluent in English within two years. His speech is impeccable and without an accent.
When he looked into applying for legal residency, he found no avenue. Even if he found a sponsor, he would have to return to Mexico and be banned from re-entering the U.S. for at least 10 years as a federal penalty.
Despite the setbacks, Evan graduated from high school and has consistently gone to college. He has only been able to get fast-food work and gigs at Tulsa's most popular clubs as a singer-songwriter, influenced by John Mayer and Damien Rice.
With this directive, he will be able to use his degrees for a career, without worrying about employer background checks.
"I'm glad to know I now have options," Evan said. "Tulsa is my home. I'm here to stay. Citizenship is my goal, but I know it would be a long process, even if the DREAM Act passed. But trust me, it would be worth it."
When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 8730 E. Skelly Drive
What: Find out more about what is involved in the administrative relief action
Who: Sponsored by DREAM Act Oklahoma and the Tulsa Community College Hispanic Student Association
President Obama announced June 15 he was using executive powers to shift the priority of the immigration policy to mirror some of the relief measures included in the DREAM Act, which is pending. The directive calls for the exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case by case basis.
*Came to the U.S. by age 16; have continuously resided in the country for at least five years before date of the directive; and are in the U.S. at this time
*Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate or are an honorably discharged veteran of the military
*Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
*Are younger than 30
It will allow for work permits up to two years for those accepted. Driver's license eligibility will vary by state.
Department of Homeland Security advised:
*Effective immediately, immigration agents will not place individuals into removal proceedings who meet the above criteria.
*For those already in immigration proceedings and who have been offered administrative closure under the previous prosecutorial discretion review program, immigration agents will make determinations about deferred action immediately. For those in removal proceedings, the agency is directed to implement the program within 60 days.
*For those not in removal proceedings, which is most of those eligible, an application will be ready within 60 days for deferred action and work authorization.
*Those with final orders of removal can apply.
*Qualifying immigrants should not turn themselves in or apply until the announcement of the formal application process.
The legislative measure was first proposed in 2001 and is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. Various versions have been proposed during the last decade. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the act in December 2010, 216-198, but it failed in the Senate. It has been re-introduced in both chambers, keeping the measure alive.
The 2010 version would have given a "conditional nonimmigrant" status for at least two years. Eligibility would include the following:
Enter the U.S. before age 15; earn a high school diploma, receive a GED or be accepted into a college; live continuously in the U.S. for at least five years; be no older than 29; undergo several background checks to be deemed of "good moral character" by the Department of Homeland Security; and undergo a medical exam.
Limits on "conditional nonimmigrants" include not sponsoring extended family members to the U.S. and not being eligible for federal benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid.
After completing two years of college or military service, the students would be eligible to apply for permanent immigrant residency.
Where to call locally for questions:
Catholic Charities: 2450 N. Harvard Ave., 918-949-HOPE (4673), tulsaworld.com/catholiccharities
YWCA Multicultural Center: 8145 E. 17th St., 918-663-0377, tulsaworld.com/ywcatulsa
Original Print Headline: Immigration change offers hope
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
Tracey Medina and her friends call local law offices to ask questions about President Barack Obama's immigration decision on Friday. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World