Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on Tuesday described the start of the application process for undocumented youth in the country seeking temporary relief from deportation as a “very important day in our nation’s history.”
Speaking to members of U.S. ethnic media outlets during a teleconference organized by New America Media, Boxer hailed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for allowing undocumented youth to “finally come out of the shadows.” She also praised President Obama for exercising discretion for undocumented young people, a move that she said she was “proud to support.”
“I had written to President Obama with a number of my colleagues asking that he do this, and I applaud him for this very important policy that he has undertaken,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security will begin accepting applications for deferred action. The initiative provides temporary relief from enforcement but does not provide lawful immigration status or a path to a green card or citizenship.
A 2012 study by the Immigration Policy Center puts the number of potential beneficiaries nationwide at approximately 1.4 million. In California alone, more than 400,000 people are potentially eligible for the initiative, which allows certain undocumented youth to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation. During that time they would be allowed to apply for college and a work permit.
“They love their country,” Boxer said of those undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, many knowing no other home. “They want to serve their country... many of them are leaders in their communities and their schools,” she stressed.
Maria Duque, who describes herself as “undocumented and proud,” came to California with her parents at the age of five from her native Ecuador. Speaking on the call, she said deferred action offers her the opportunity to be able to legitimately give back to her community and country after years of struggling with her status. “I was persistent and hopeful... always hopeful that I could prove that I was truly an American.”
Critics of deferred action contend the move will lead to more undocumented immigrants crossing the border in the belief they can benefit from the deferment. Sen. Boxer vehemently denied this notion, saying the move will affect only those who are already in the United States, and “has nothing to do with people coming over the line... Anyone who says this is going to encourage more illegal immigration doesn’t know what they’re talking about because the only people who qualify for this deferred status are people who have graduated from high school already and are here, or served in the military honorably.”
Still, others have expressed concerns that the information provided by applicants could be used to indict their families and lead to deportations. Don Lyster, Washington, D.C. Director of the National Immigration Law Center, explained this would not be the case.
“Information provided for a request will not be shared with ICE or customs and border officials, unless USCIS finds that the applicant is a threat to public or national security or has committed fraud or committed an offense,” he said. “There has been strong language from USCIS that they will not share personal information.”
Lyster also addressed fears about what might happen should presumed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney capture the White House in November. Although Romney has spoken out against the DREAM Act and deferred action, Lyster said his election would not affect those who already had been granted the two-year reprieve. If deferred action is continued in the future, he added, anyone still eligible will be allowed to apply again for a further two years after the expiration of their initial deferment.
Under the plan, eligible applicants must be under the age of 31, have arrived in this country before the age of 16 and have been resident in the United States continuously since 2007. They must also have a high school diploma or similar qualification or an honorable discharge from the armed forces and must not have a criminal record.
Speakers stressed that all applicants consult an experienced attorney before applying, especially those who may have had a run-in with law enforcement officers, and avoid scams by unscrupulous attorneys or notarios.
Lizeth Zorrilla, an activist with United We Dream, an organization of more than 50 affiliates advocating for the rights of undocumented youth, expressed her own enthusiasm regarding the beginning of the process. “I was very emotional and very excited… DREAMers across the state are just as excited.”
But, she added, the fight is not over. Zorrilla pledged to continue working toward a more permanent solution such as the DREAM Act, which would provide young people a path to legalization.
“This is a very narrow bill,” said Sen. Boxer. “It’s too narrow; we should have done comprehensive immigration reform, you know it doesn’t do enough, but it is a great start.”
Boxer later added, "Because it’s only a two-year program, we know it’s narrow in scope, but I know that these young people are going to be such a credit to our nation and to themselves, that it is going to set the stage for broad reform assuming President Obama gets re-elected."
Zorrilla said she was heartened to hear this support for immigration reform, saying, “It is music to my ears to hear that people are still fighting.”
For more information please go to www.ucsis.gov, www.weownthedream.org or www.unitedwedream.org.
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