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Undocumented Immigrants Applying For Deferred Action Targets Of Scams

Aired 8/8/12 on KPBS News.

Undocumented immigrants applying for permission to remain in the United States under President Obama's new deportation policy should beware of scammers.

— Undocumented immigrants applying for permission to remain in the United States under President Obama's new deportation policy should beware of scammers, said Andrea Guerrero, executive director of the social advocacy group Equality Alliance San Diego.

She said some lawyers and notarios (notaries) are dispensing lies.

“One of the many misconceptions which is perpetuated by people committing fraud in the community is that this is an amnesty or that this is a path to citizenship or that this is a bridge to another status,” she said.

Guerrero said this is not true. It’s a suspension of deportation, only a temporary status.

“It is temporary relief without a pathway to anywhere but it is an important relief that will allow individuals to come out of the shadows and pursue their current education or current career goals,” Guerrero said.

She also said people have been ripped off -- some for as much as $4,000 for unnecessary legal services.

Immigration attorney Vidal Cordova said many undocumented immigrants are hesitant about applying because of rumors dispelled by notarios or consultants. He said applicants simply need to understand the process.

“There’s still a need to educate the community in letting them know what the deferred action is exactly, how it’s different from the DREAM Act, explain to them how it is not the DREAM Act and also letting them know that the benefit they would be receiving is not a path to legalization,” Cordova said.

Cheri Attix, San Diego Chapter Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she has seen clients who have already been lied to before the application comes out.

“(The program) doesn’t apply to anyone’s family, it doesn’t get you status, it’s just so that immigration will not deport you and you should be able to get a work permit, that’s it,” she said. “Anyone that tells you anymore than that is lying to you and probably wants you to pay them a lot of money.”

Attix recommends talking to legitimate immigration attorneys or community organizations that are informed about immigration and can analyze an applicant’s history.

She said this is a step in the right direction, although she is cautiously optimistic.

“We’re all hoping that Congress will eventually do the right thing, they’ll pass the DREAM Act, they’ll make some immigration reform so that our system finally makes some sense and works for people,” she said.

Processing costs to attain an employment authorization card will total $465. That includes the processing of fingerprints, photographs and a background check.

Guerrero said that as many as 20,000 individuals in San Diego may qualify to apply for deferred deportation and a work permit.

Itxel Guillen, an undocumented immigrant, said the announcement of the new policy impacted her. Since she is 18 years old and came to the United States since she was a child, she said she is definitely going to apply to delay deportation.

“I have to take the risk because it seems real right now and if I don’t jump at it right now then it might not be true later, so I want to have whatever opportunity I have at my hands,” she said.

Since she is starting as a part-time student at San Diego State University in the fall, she said she wouldn’t “fit in” if she was sent back to Mexico because she has always lived in the U.S.

“If I were to go back, it would be a whole lot different and I don’t think I would have the same opportunities that I have here just because even though English is my second language, I speak them both fluently, but I know that I wouldn’t be as fluent in Spanish as I am in English because my whole learning education has been here,” she said.

Recently the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium created the Dreamer Assistance Network, helping undocumented immigrants understand the application process and speak to immigration attorneys at no or low-cost.

Free eligibility events with immigrant attorneys and advocates will be held on August 17 in San Diego, Oceanside and the South Bay from 6 to 8 p.m.

The application will be made available on August 15 from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Obama Administration first announced the program June 15.

Requirements include:

  • Need to be at least 15 years old to file
  • Under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012
  • Arrived in the U.S. before age 16
  • Been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012
  • Been a continuous resident in the U.S. since June 15, 2007
  • Pursuit of an education
  • Not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors

As many as 1.26 million immigrants nationwide may be eligible for temporary relief from deportation, according to revised estimates released by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

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