Activists Urge Undocumented Youth to Get ‘Papers’ In Order

Undocumented students urged not to turn themselves in.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined a local immigrant rights coalition on Tuesday to urge young people in the country with out authorization to begin collecting paperwork that could make it possible for them to avoid deportation under a newly announced change in federal policy.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Se Insta que Jóvenes Indocumentados Pongan en Orden Sus ‘Papeles’

President Barack Obama said on June 15 that he has issued an executive order authorizing undocumented immigrants 30-years-old or younger, who were brought to the United States before the age of 16, have lived in the US continuously for at least five years, are in school or have graduated, have served in the military and who have no criminal background, to receive a two-year, renewable permit to remain in the country, and to receive authorization to work legally.

UCLA student Justino Mora, an undocumented immigrant, said the news brought him tears of hope for the first time. He said the executive order means he will have the opportunity to contribute to the US economy. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

While the announcement was met with joy in some corners, others have expressed concern that the order could leave undocumented immigrants who apply for the permit at risk of deportation if Obama is not reelected, and his executive order is revoked.

But on Monday, immigrant rights activists and the mayor seemed more concerned about getting potential candidates ready to apply.

“We’ve gotta prepare the documents, we gotta show the record, you gotta demonstrate that you have been here through school records, thorough
financial records…” said Villaraigosa, who admitted he was brought to tears by the president’s announcement.

While in the State Assembly, Villagaigosa helped pass AB540, the law that gives undocumented immigrants who attended high school in California the right to pay in-state tuition at state institutions of higher education.

Victor Nieblas of the National Immigration Lawyers Association said the process for applying has not yet been announced, so it’s important for people to know that they should not turn themselves into immigration authorities. The government doesn’t want you to turn yourself in, it could be 60 days before they are ready, Nieblas said.

In the meantime, students should begin collecting any proof that shows they have been in the US for at least the last five years, said Jessica Dominguez, an immigration attorney and LA Family Unity Commission member. She said this is especially important for individuals with any kind of criminal record. Get certified court dispositions and get those records analyzed by an attorney to find out if they could be held against you, she said.

Under the announced policy, applicants cannot have a felony conviction, a significant misdemeanor, or multiple misdemeanors, or pose a threat to national
security.

Dominguez advised people to use caution when selecting someone to assist them in the process. She said immigration fraud happens all the time and undocumented immigrants need to be careful not to fall in the trap of unscrupulous attorneys and fraudulent notarios who want to make a quick buck off them.

She also warned that lying on the application would lead to deportation.

“Be very careful with anyone out there who is telling you to make up evidence or to lie about your age or any other requirements, because instead of helping yourself, you’re actually going to be closing the door for any future relief,” she said.

Dominguez said besides receiving work authorization, immigrants who qualify for this relief will be able to receive a social security card, state identification card and a driver’s license. She also noted that while they will no longer have to fear deportation, “they can’t leave the country.”

Individuals who were 30 at the time of the memorandum will still be eligible to apply and individuals will be able to continue soliciting renewals every two years even after the age of 31, Dominguez told EGP.

Immigration lawyer Alena Ray Conrad, principal of the Law Office of Alena Ray Conrad, says the people who could benefit the most are those who have filed family petitions and have been waiting years for their pending cases to become concurrent. “It’s something to get them by in the meantime,” she said.

Ray Conrad noted that individuals must have been 16 years old or younger when they immigrated to the US, but minors must wait until they are 15 years old to apply. So a 15-year-old who is scheduled for deportation could apply for relief, but a 10-year-old child with a clean immigration record would not be eligible, she explained.

Other minors and Dream Act-eligible individuals who have already been deported and are currently living in another country, are not eligible.
There is no relief for the parents of eligible young people, immigration advocates stressed.

On the day of the announcement, while some dreamers and their allies celebrated the announcement in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Downtown Los Angles, a handful of undocumented activists said they were less than thrilled.

Members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance began a sit in at Obama’s Los Angeles area campaign office, located near Culver City, on June 14. The alliance is staging similar “Occupy Obama Headquarters” events in other parts of campaign offices across the country, including Atlanta, Oakland, Detroit, Cincinnati, according to 24-year-old undocumented student activist Jonathan Perez of Montebello.

Perez said this memo wasn’t much different from the Obama’s Aug. 2011 announcement of leniency in enforcing low-priority deportation cases.
“It’s still case-by-case…. a lot of Dream Act students have been deported,” he said.

Adrian James, 25, who was also occupying the local Obama Campaign office, said he is optimistic that their efforts—coming out as undocumented immigrants and participating in rallies and acts of civil disobedience—are being heard and that they are making an impact.

James is a Riverside resident who emigrated from Thailand at the age of 13. He said the timeliness of the election is a principal concern: “That’s why we continue to occupy and we’re being cautious not to celebrate too prematurely,” he said.

Over the last year or two, undocumented students, including Perez, have allowed themselves to be arrested for civil disobedience in order to bring attention to so-called Dream Act students, or “Dreamers.” In his speech on the policy change, Obama noted the bravery of these students, saying “Dreamers” are American in everyway but “on paper,” and are poised to make positive contributions to the country.

Still, many worry the announcement is little more than an election ploy.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles Executive Director Angelica Salas credited the activism of undocumented young people for the policy change.

CHIRLA has posted on its website a self-help guide for requesting prosecutorial discretion, as the new policy is referred to. They also have a hotline for general immigration questions: 1-888-624-4752.

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June 21, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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