Youth immigrants begin process
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Friday, August 17, 2012
8/17/12 at 7:00 AM
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Attorneys' offices and education forums are filling up with requests for help from undocumented Oklahoma youths wanting to remain in the U.S. through a new federal program.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals will halt deportations of law-abiding youths and allow for two-year work permits for teenagers and graduates meeting certain criteria. It does not grant legal status or a path to citizenship.
DREAM Act Oklahoma has been sponsoring education forums throughout the summer, ramping up to the release of the application.
The usual attendance is about 25, and the group was anticipating a slightly higher turnout for an event held Wednesday, which was the day the federal immigration service made the application available on its website, said Carrissa Zavala-Gomez, co-affiliate leader.
"We were hoping for 50 and more than 300 showed up," said Zavala-Gomez. "... I was astonished how many people showed up. People are very excited and are rushing to get all the information they can."
But officials don't want immigrants to rush too much.
"This is not a deadline application. It's not first-come, first-served," said Zavala-Gomez. "We want to make sure people take their time and get it reviewed by lawyers."
Nationally, about 1.76 million youths could be eligible, and between 10,000 and 20,000 of those are in Oklahoma, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
President Barack Obama announced June 15 he was using executive powers to shift the immigration priorities to mirror some of the relief measures included in the DREAM Act, which is a decade-old measure pending in Congress.
Obama's directive calls for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case-by-case basis.
The review of the application will involve a heavy dose of documents, including records from school, work, past residences and medical institutions.
Tulsa attorney David Sobel said getting the application correct and complete with appropriate supporting records is crucial to obtaining relief from deportation.
Errors can result in automatic denials with no appeal, or possibly lead to removal proceedings if officials deem the information provided to be a national threat.
"With immigration, there is a lot of paperwork and you have to get it certified," Sobel said. "People mess up paperwork all the time. A lot of people think they can do this on their own, but immigration is factually intensive, and past records are very, very important. Whether you use an attorney or not, take your time."
Common questions from youths are for specific scenarios, usually involving how misdemeanor offenses will be evaluated. Also, youths have been fearful that a denial will result in deportation.
Federal officials have stated information in the applications will not be shared with enforcement unless there is a national security concern.
Felony and misdemeanor convictions that would disallow this action include domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful possession or use of a firearm, drug distribution or trafficking and driving under the influence, as well as offenses that resulted in more than 90-day jail sentences.
Sobel said an immigration attorney can help the youths evaluate how their backgrounds will be considered. Expunged records or deferred sentences are viewed differently by immigration officials, often at the expense of the applicant. Or someone may have a large number of traffic violations that could be problematic.
"Make sure what you have and present to immigration is totally accurate," said Sobel. "Make sure you understand your background. If there is any kind of involvement with the law, disclose that to the person helping you."
Advocates suggest youths contact immigration attorneys for assistance, but urge them to find immigration specialists and avoid "notarios," people presenting themselves as attorneys or specialists but are without credentials.
"You've got to have an attorney to look at the whole picture," Sobel said. "As an attorney, I am also able to help them see if there are other forms of relief for them they were not aware of. Also, you want to look at it with an eye to the future when they file for an adjustment or citizenship. This application is all a matter of their record."
To help youths through the application process, DREAM Act Oklahoma is hosting a forum from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Faith Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 2801 S. 129th East Ave.
There will be seven stations where applicants can get help with the application, said Zavala-Gomez.
"After each step, we hope they will come out with a finished application," she said. "We will have lawyers there to review the applications. This is for more of the simpler cases. If we find there is something more complicated or have issues with misdemeanors, we will refer them to make an appointment with one of the attorneys."
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
Deferred action is a form of prosecutorial discretion. It is a tool prosecutors can use to drop a deportation case. Immigrants qualifying have their cases closed but not dismissed. That means their cases could be re-opened for deportation if the immigrant commits a crime or a new immigration violation.
Immigrants whose cases are closed are allowed to remain in the U.S., but they are in legal limbo. They are not granted legal status or given a path to residency.
Younger than 31 as of June 15.
Arrived in the U.S. before age 16.
Resided continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.
Physically present in the U.S. on June 15 and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action.
Entered without inspection before June 15 or lawful immigration status expired as of June 15.
Currently in school, graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school; obtained a GED; or an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. military.
Not convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
Youth may begin to request consideration for deferred action on Aug. 15. If filed before that time, the request will be rejected.
Forms to file will be on the immigration agency's website.
The fee is $465 to file. No fee waivers will be granted.
Once a request is made, an appointment will be made for a review and to begin the series of background checks.
If denied, there is no appeal or review of the case.
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Original Print Headline: Youth immigrants begin process
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
Alejandro Macias Ortega, consulate of Mexico in Little Rock, Ark., talks with audience members during a meeting at Plaza Santa Cecilia on Wednesday in east Tulsa. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Bessy Valles and Paul Gonzalez organize and staple together deferred action applications in front of a crowd of more than 300 attendees during a deferred action forum at Plaza Santa Cecilia in east Tulsa on Wednesday. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Omar Cisneros talks with attorney Rebekah Guthrie as he translates her answers to a large audience. Guthrie answered questions from the audience about the deferred action application that was released to the public on Wednesday. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World