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Caution Advised As Dust Settles on Obama’s Immigration Policy

Above: Immigration activists gather in front of the White House to celebrate the Obama Administration's announcement about deportation of illegal immigrants June 15, 2012 in Washington,

Aired 6/25/12 on KPBS News.

Undocumented immigrants are warned to avoid unlicensed consultants who promise immediate help.

— Hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrant stand to benefit from President Obama’s recent announcement that the government will stop deporting many young people brought to the U.S. as children, and offer them work permits.

But now the dust is settling on the president’s policy, and immigration attorneys are warning people hoping to take advantage of it to proceed with caution, especially in light of reports that unlicensed immigration consultants are emerging in immigrant communities with false promises that they can help people right away.

“We saw, literally within hours of the announcement, that there were websites popping up, radio ads going out," said Laura Lichter, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "Within a couple of days in the Sunday newspapers, community newspapers, we were seeing advertisements.”

It happens anytime a new immigration policy is announced, Lichter said, unlicensed consultants, known as notarios, emerge with bad legal advice and promises they can help people qualify. They often make things worse, by encouraging clients to provide false statements that could end up disqualifying clients from the benefit, or worse, get them deported.

That’s why immigration attorneys, who’ve been inundated with phone calls over the last week, are advising potential clients to be careful in the days and weeks ahead, to avoid a mistake that could get them immediately deported.

The work permit application won’t even be open until mid-August, and the government has only issued broad guidelines about who would qualify: people brought to the U.S. before age 16, who’ve lived in the U.S. for at least five years, have studied or served in the military and who have no felonies or serious misdemeanors.

But for lawyers, there’s some fuzzy language in there: serious misdemeanor, for example, is not a term they often encounter, and many lawyers are waiting for clarity on what it means.

It’s especially important because the government’s new policy includes another caveat: it reserves the right to deport people who apply for the work permit but are denied.

That’s one big difference between the president’s policy and the amnesty Ronald Reagan signed in the late 1980s, which included a confidentially provision that “if for some reason you were denied the benefit, you could just go home. They would not use that for enforcement purposes,” Velasquez said.

Under Obama’s policy, the government can decide whether to deport someone case by case.

So attorneys and immigrant rights advocates are cautioning people who may think they have only minor criminal backgrounds and may qualify for the work permits to proceed carefully, and to avoid unlicensed notarios, lest they should find themselves in deportation proceedings instead.

“Immigration law is incredibly complex and unconscionably unforgiving,” Lichter said.

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