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Young Undocumented Immigrants In San Diego Seek To Avoid Deportation

Evening Edition

Lilia Velasquez, an immigration and naturalization attorney and adjunct professor at California Western School of Law, and Lupe Sandoval, a student applying for work permit to stay in the U.S., talk to KPBS about the Obama Administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Aired 8/15/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Lilia Velasquez, Immigration and Naturalization attorney, adjunct professor, California Western School of Law

Lupe Sandoval, student applying for work permit to stay in the U.S.


Additional Resources

US Citizenship and Immigration Services

Equality Alliance, San Diego

Dreamer Assistance Network

Lupe Sandoval holding her application
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Above: Lupe Sandoval holding her application

Thousands of young illegal immigrants lined up Wednesday hoping for the right to work legally in America without being deported. The Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals could expand the rights of more than 1 million young illegal immigrants by giving them work permits, though they would not obtain legal residency here or a path to citizenship.

At least 13,000 people stood in line in Chicago, clutching reams of paperwork, for a workshop led by immigrant rights advocates at the city's Navy Pier. Hundreds of potential applicants waited outside nonprofit offices in Los Angeles for help filing paperwork to open the door to the staples of success in America - a work permit, and then later a Social Security number and driver's license.

"It's something I have been waiting for since I was two years old," said Bupendra Ram, a 25-year-old communications graduate student in Fullerton, Calif., who still needs supporting documents from his Fiji Islands home before he can apply. "This offers us an opportunity to fulfill the dreams I've had since I was a child."

Less than three months before an expected tight presidential election, the new immigration program is mired in controversy. Republican critics accuse President Barack Obama of drafting the plan to boost his political standing with Latinos ahead of November's vote and say the program favors illegal immigrants over unemployed American citizens during dismal economic times.

In Arizona, which passed one of the nation's toughest anti-immigration laws, Gov Jan Brewer signed an executive order Wednesday directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to illegal immigrants who obtain work authorizations under the program. Brewer said she's following the intent of the current state law denying public benefits to illegal immigrants.

To be eligible for the federal program, immigrants must prove they arrived in the United States before they turned 16, are 30 or younger, have been living in the country at least five years and are in school or graduated or served in the military. They cannot have been convicted of certain crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat.

Initial concerns that federal authorities might take a tough approach on applications or that a Republican presidential victory could unravel applicants' gains have largely been pushed aside by massive interest from thousands of young people eager to work.

In San Diego County, 20,000 were expected to apply. A coalition of immigrant-rights groups will host three workshops on Friday to provide help in filling out the application. They are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, Montgomery Middle School in the Linda Vista section of San Diego and Sweetwater High School in National City.

Immigration attorneys will be available to provide help to prospective applicants. The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium plans to hold similar events in the future.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney does not support so-called Dream Act legislation for illegal immigrants who attend college - a key group that Obama aims to reach with this program. The former Massachusetts governor has also criticized the deferred action program but has not said it he would reverse it, pledging instead an unspecified "civil but resolute" long-term fix to illegal immigration.

So far, the measure has won favor for Obama along Latinos - many who view immigration as a litmus test when choosing a political candidate, said Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.

"What this has done is to signal that the president, who was unable to get comprehensive immigration reform, does at least care about the situation of these immigrants," Pastor said. "This is something that has been overwhelmingly popular in the immigrant population and in the Latino population in general."

Some Republican lawmakers have accused Obama of sidestepping Congress and creating a backdoor amnesty program.

"It's a betrayal of American young people," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican. "We're supposed to be representing the interests of the American people - not people who come here illegally from other countries."

In an internal document outlining the program's implementation, Department of Homeland Security officials estimated more than 1 million people would apply in the first year and about 890,000 would be eligible.

On Wednesday, immigrants lined up for help filing applications at workshops around the country. Others sought identity documents from consulates to be able to apply.

Jaqueline Cinto said she's still working on gathering the documents she needs, knowing it's her only shot at putting her master's degree in education to good use. But she's nervous that filing the papers might put her relatives at risk for deportation - even though Homeland Security officials have said they will generally not use applicants' information to track down other family.

"I am even more afraid that I might be denied," said Cinto, 26, who came to New York more than a decade ago from Mexico.

In central California, one group has been warning farmworkers and their children not to sign up for the program at all.

"Immigration agents could haul them off that same day," said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League. "Even if they don't, if this policy is disbanded, now ICE has the addresses of all the families. Why would you want to squeal on your parents?"

The documents to prove identity could include passports, birth certificates, school transcripts, medical, financial and military records. Multiple sworn affidavits, signed under penalty of perjury, can also be used, Homeland Security officials said. Anyone found to have committed fraud will be referred to federal immigration agents, the department said.

Laura Lichter, a Denver attorney who heads the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said everyone takes a risk by applying.

"I would say that people are between a rock and a hard place. In most cases, people can take (the government) at their word that their intent is to administer this policy in a fair and appropriate manner but there are going to be people that are going to find themselves having problems," she said

A decision on each application could take several months, and immigrants have been warned not to leave the country while their application is pending. If they are allowed to stay in the United States and want to travel internationally, they will need to apply for permission to come back into the country, a request that would cost another $360.

The lines on Wednesday grew throughout the day; the crowd in Chicago was so large that workshop organizers told them to come back another day.

"Navy Pier is today's Ellis Island, and while they saw New York City, today they see Chicago," said Illinois congressman Luis Gutierrez. "But the most important thing is they see America."

City News Service contributed to this report.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | August 15, 2012 at 11:58 a.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

If someone who shows up to file and application and is found to be unqualified for the deferred deportation program, will they be arrested and deported immediately?

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | August 15, 2012 at 1 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

Where's our spammer?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | August 15, 2012 at 5:17 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago


I don't want my tax dollars going to the complete nonsense you are referring to.

Use resources to go after the illegal immigrants who are committing crimes here, not young people who are trying to do the right thing.

It disturbs me that you want to treat people who have been here a long time, have no criminal background, and who are actually making an effort to become legit in such a barbaric manner.

Go after dangerous criminals, not these people.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | August 15, 2012 at 6:16 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago


First, Obama is only deferring their deportation for two years (a scheme for a few more votes). So now your tax dollars are being doubly wasted as the inevitable conclusion is still deportation.

Second, read my post again. I was only speaking about the immediate deportation of those who are unqualified for the program which means a criminal.

If someone shows up who is not qualified, will they be arrested and deported?

I hope so and would imagine that you would too, Duck.

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Avatar for user 'citydweller'

citydweller | August 15, 2012 at 7:51 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

I have two concerns about this program that I hope Ms Velasquez will have a chance to address:
1. As I understand it, applicants may be rejected, and if rejected, they will then have exposed themselves to ICE for immediate removal. While I don't have a problem with that if the rejection is based on discovery of a criminal record, I would be very concerned if these consequences applied where the rejection was on essentially bureaucratic grounds.

2. As the temporary residence permits are granted by executive policy rather than statutory basis, if Romney becomes President, could he revoke the permits that had been granted, leaving the applicants exposed to immediate removal before the two year period that they had paid for expires?

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | August 16, 2012 at 11:27 a.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago


Your concerns are exactly why this program is nothing but a cheap Obama campaign ploy to get a couple more votes.

You are voluntarily informing the government that you are an illegal alien and guaranteeing your deportation in 2 years!

Thanks Obama!

Even Republicans couldn't have come up with a better plan to get rid of illegal aliens! I just hope they are immediately arresting and deporting those who are unqualified on the spot.

( | suggest removal )