Young immigrants see new citizenship hope
By Emily McFarlan and Jenette Sturges email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org June 30, 2012 2:42PM
Claudia Almanza, of Elgin, who immigrated from Mexico, shakes hands with Elgin officials during the New Citizen Recognition Ceremony at City Hall in Elgin, Ill., on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
The Obama administration’s deferred action policy will allow young people living illegally in the U.S. to avoid deportation and apply for two-year work permits. It is open to those who:
Came to the U.S. before age 16.
Are at least 15 years old but have not turned 31 as of June 15, 2012.
Have resided continuously in the U.S. for at least five years and were present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012.
Are in school, have graduated from high school, have a GED, or are in or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces.
Have a clean criminal record.
Application procedures for deferred action are expected to be released by the White House sometime in the next two months.
Updated: August 2, 2012 10:24AM
Family is important to Leslie F.
That’s “where everything starts,” Leslie said. And without her family, she said, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
When she was 9, her father emigrated to the area from Mexico. She, her mom and her sister followed a year later.
All since have become U.S. citizens or legal residents with help from the Hispanic social service agency Centro de Informacion in Elgin, Leslie said. All except her.
It’s not that the 27-year-old Schaumburg woman doesn’t want to become a citizen — she “definitely” does, said Leslie, who asked that her last name not be used. She graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago with a degree in justice studies, took the L-SAT and planned to attend law school.
“I always wanted to help people. As soon as I started with my major, I started becoming more interested in the juvenile court system,” Leslie said.
“The perfect way to get more involved in it is to become a lawyer and eventually be there to help them out. I want to focus on family and in juvenile.”
But without citizenship, without a Social Security number, she can’t get a scholarship or loan, making paying for law school impossible. She has submitted her citizenship paperwork, but she has at least a 12-year wait to get that, she said.
That’s a situation in which “so many” young people in the Elgin area find themselves, according to Jaime Garcia, executive director of Centro de Informacion.
And that is what is so important about President Obama’s announcement in mid-June that his administration would no longer deport the children of immigrants who came to the country illegally, without documentation, Garcia said.
“It’s important for me because it would allow me to pretty much finish my dream,” Leslie said.
It’s difficult to tell how many undocumented young people in the Fox Valley will be affected by the nation’s newest immigration policy. They are, after all, undocumented.
“I would venture to say even thousands,” Dave Richmond said.
Richmond is an immigration attorney with an office in downtown Aurora. In the week after Obama’s announcement, he said his phone rang off the hook.
So did the phones at Centro de Informacion offices in Elgin, Carpentersville and Hanover Park, Garcia said.
The Obama administration’s new policy could allow an estimated 1 million young immigrants across the U.S. to apply for “deferred action” on deportation orders and gain temporary work visas. It allows those who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are still under age 30, have earned a high school diploma or GED or served in the military and who have no criminal record to stay in the U.S. and to apply for documentation that will allow them to work legally.
“A number of people facing deportation — they graduated high school, they’re going to college,” Richmond said. “Their crime is that they were brought here as children by their parents, and this announcement would allow those people to stay here not with legal status, not with a green card, just to stay here and obtain work authorization.”
The new policy, however, falls short of what the so-called Dream Act — which never made it through Congress — had promised: a path to citizenship.
“The one thing people need to realize is that this does not give people a legal status, a green card or a path to citizenship. Only the Congress and a change in the law can do that,” Richmond said.
“It allows people to affirmatively ask, ‘Here I am. I know you can deport me, but don’t. Give me a deferred action.’ ”
Garcia called it a Band-Aid, only a solution as long as Obama is in office. There’s no telling what the next president might do, and with a list of undocumented immigrants, he said.
For one, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in his first comments on the new policy, said at the annual conference at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials he would “replace and supersede” the measure with his own long-term immigration reforms.
“For now, most people are saying it’s worth the risk,” Garcia said.
That includes Karla Bustos, 20, who contacted Centro de Informacion about applying for deferred action from as far away as Lombard.
Bustos’ parents brought her to the country from Mexico when she was just 3. She can’t remember Mexico at all — not even her house, she said. She cannot speak Spanish “perfectly,” she said.
She and her mother cried when they heard the president’s announcement, she said.
“It’s good because we can do everything like normal — like normal people,” Bustos said.
Garcia admitted, “It gives these young people a ray of hope. They can stay, even if it’s two years at a time.”
And it gives them an incentive to stay out of trouble, to go to school and to get a job, he said.
But there’s not much advice Centro de Informacion now can give young people interested in applying for deferred action, other than what paperwork to get together, according to Garcia. Application procedures have not yet been released by the White House; that’s expected sometime in the next two months.
Because they cannot have a criminal record to qualify, they’ll need to have a background check and be finger-printed, he said. They’ll also need school records to prove how long they have been in the country and how old they were when they came here, he added.
And Rosa Sanborn, Centro de Informacion coordinator of immigration services, has said the center never would encourage anyone to apply without first consulting an accredited immigration lawyer. That’s something it can help facilitate, Sanborn said.
Still, Leslie F. said, she plans to apply.
She doesn’t take anything for granted, she said, and she appreciates the opportunity she has had to complete her undergraduate degree here. But, she said, she wants to “finish everything I want to be,” to show “we’re actually serious about being good citizens.”
“I would honestly say look at it as a human being, not just a policy.”