Activists Offer Reality Check on Obama’s Deportation Policy Change

Undocumented students have a lot of questions, unsatisfied with announcement.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Undocumented immigrants 30-years-old or younger, who came to the United States as children and have no criminal background, could avoid deportation and receive authorization to work legally, according to a new memorandum on deferred action announced today, June 15. But the devil could be in the details, say “Dreamer” activists.

News of President Barack Obama’s federal policy change spread quickly on social media sites and undocumented students and immigrant rights activists applauded the president for acknowledging that so-called “Dreamers” are American in every way but “on paper,” and are poised to make positive contributions to the country.

Dreamers are students eligible for the proposed Dream Act —Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors— a yet to be approved federal law that would give undocumented youth brought to the country through no fault of their own, and who have attended US schools, earned a diploma or GED, served in the military and have no significant criminal background, a pathway to citizenship.

However, while some immigrant students and their allies celebrated the announcement in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Downtown Los Angles, other undocumented activists were less than thrilled.

Related story: Obama Announces Amnesty-Like Policy Change for Undocumented Youth

Learn more: ICE Frequently Asked Questions on June 15 Deferred Action

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 at campaign offices across the country, including Atlanta, Oakland, Detroit, Cincinnati, according to 24-year-old undocumented student activist Jonathan Perez, who was brought to the US at the age of 3.
Perez, a resident of Montebello, said he and others who are currently occupying the L.A. campaign office are not ready to leave their post to go celebrate. He says this memo isn’t much different from 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. “What we’ve been demanding is an Executive Order to halt the deportation of Dream Act-eligible youth and to have some protected status from deportation.”

Perez says Dream Act eligible men and women are still at risk for deportation and wonders what happens once an undocumented immigrant, who was granted a work permit under this policy, turns 31?

The president made it clear that his action is not a “pathway to citizenship.”

Local Dream Act activists Jonathan Perez, left, and Isaac Barrera, right, after their release from a Louisiana detention center on Nov. 24, 2011. Both have been arrested on more than one occasion for civil desobedience. (Photo by Mohammad Abdollahi) Read the story this photo accompanies at

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

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 caution not to celebrate too prematurely,” he said.

He wondered what would happen if the application of an undocumented student is denied, would there be an appeal process? Probably not, he said.

James said this could be a small relief to a few select people, but it’s not actual relief and it’s not a path to citizenship.

Martha Vazquez of Highland Park resident and student at Pasadena City College, noted that certain misdemeanors would disqualify individuals from the prosecutorial discretion. There are a lot of ways to get a misdemeanor, she said, noting for example driving without a license. Undocumented immigrants cannot obtain a drivers license in California.

Vazquez said real relief may not come until the community wakes up and organizes more protests in order to ensure immigrants can “live without fear, and feel respected as humans.”

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, undocumented immigrants who are eligible under the policy are those who came to the US under age 16; are 30-years-old or younger; have lived in the United States continuously for at least five years; are enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate (GED) or are honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors or pose a threat to national security.

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 or people who have another means to qualify for permanent residency.

Undocumented students should not rush to an immigration office to seek work permits, she warned. A process and application to seek deferred action and receive a work permit has not been established yet, and government officials say it could take 60 days to set up, she told EGP.

“I had a couple of people call me… they feel like at least it’s something,” she said. “It depends on how you look at it. Is it enough? No. But is it something? It’s something … it’s more than what was available yesterday.”

Ray Conrad said the policy change could help young adults until they turn 31, then they could be out of luck unless there is an immigration reform or a new law is enacted. She also noted that while a renewable 2-year work permit would lead to a government identification card—which indicates the individual is here legally and allowed to work— but it won’t lead to legal residency, or citizenship.

Ray Conrad also 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 child who is currently in immigration court proceedings or has a final order of removal could apply for relief, while a 10 year old with a clean immigration record would not be eligible, she explained.

The policy is not available to minors and Dream Act-eligible individuals who have already been deported and are currently in another country because the relief is only available to people who are currently in the US and have lived in the US continuously for at least five years, she said.

The Department of Homeland Security will also conduct background checks, so individuals should not lie about being in the country before the age of 16 or having lived here continuously for the last five years, she said. A fraudulent application will lead to being placed in removal proceedings in immigration court.

Over the last year or two, undocumented students, including Perez and Vazquez, have allowed themselves to be arrested for civil disobedience in order to bring attention to Dream Act students. In his speech on the policy change, Obama noted the bravery of these students. Still, many worry the announcement is little more than an election ploy.

Video of Obama’s speech from

The Federation for American Immigration Reform has decried the announcement saying it “is a clear indication that the Obama administration intends to grant blanket relief to illegal aliens on its own initiative, completely circumventing Congress, which has repeatedly rejected the DREAM Act over the past 10 years,” they wrote in an online statement.

Information from City News Service was used in this report.

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June 15, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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