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Young Undocumented Immigrants In San Diego Seek To Avoid Deportation

Lupe Sandoval holding her application
Patty Lane/KPBS
Lupe Sandoval holding her application
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
Young Undocumented Immigrants In San Diego Seek To Avoid Deportation
GUESTS: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.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, it's Wednesday, August 15th. Our top story on Midday Edition, application are expected to flood into on offices today as President Obama's policy allowing those qualified under age 31 to get a two-year deferral from deportation and be allowed to apply for work permits. But there are still bureaucratic hoops for applicants and an ongoing anxiety about how long this program will last. Lilia Velasquez is an immigration attorney and adjunct at California western school of law. And Lupe Sandoval was brought to the country when she was six. Thanks for coming in. SANDOVAL: Thanks for having me. CAVANAUGH: Are you ready to apply for this program on this first application day? SANDOVAL: Yes, actually just yesterday we had a meeting with my lawyer, and we talked about that. And we're ready to file it as soon as possible. CAVANAUGH: What kinds of documentation do you have to get-together in order to apply for the program? SANDOVAL: Basically documents that are proof that I've been here since I was young, so certificated transcripts from public schools, my graduation, my GED, or high school diploma that proves is that I've been here for a long time. CAVANAUGH: How easy is it to get that stuff together? SANDOVAL: Actually, I've been -- my parents have been keeping that. So for me, it's easy to get that. But most of the documents have to go to the public San Diego county and get those other documents. CAVANAUGH: Actually this program came at the Nick of time for you and your family. Why is that? SANDOVAL: Yes, well, actually our first lawyer, the case didn't go well with our first lawyer. So I was in removal proceedings a year before I graduated from high school. But thanks to this, I can stay here for two years and work. CAVANAUGH: As you say, Nick of time for Lupe. Remind us if you would, who can apply for this program and who can't? VELASQUEZ: The No. 1 requirement is that the applicant needs to be under 31 on June 15th, which is great news. We didn't have clarity on this issue until later because if a person turned 31 on June 16th, they're still eligible. And clearly also they need to show that they have resided continuously for the five years. That is easy in some cases. It is difficult in other cases where the person graduated from high school several years ago, and they also need to show that they came to the U.S. before they were 16 years of age. I've only had 1 case where the person came to the U.S. when he was 16 years and 1 month. And he left my office very, very sad. CAVANAUGH: Oh, dear. Whenever you have those qualifications, there's always someone who's going to just not qualify by the skin of their teeth. VELASQUEZ: And of course he felt that -- doesn't this violate the spirit of the law? And I go, it and, to some extent, but at the same time, the immigration rules are finite. When they say you need to be under 16, they mean it. And you do need to demonstrate that, so I cannot take your case. CAVANAUGH: Is there any case how young someone can be to apply for this program? VELASQUEZ: Correct. They have to be at least 15 years of age. I had a lady call me yesterday, and she had a son who was 33, and a daughter who was 14. So I told her, your 33-year-old son not eligible. And your 14-year-old daughter has to wait a year to apply. CAVANAUGH: It sounds like your office has been quite busy since President Obama made this announcement in June about the inauguration of this program. VELASQUEZ: Business is booming, which is good. But I think that more than that, it's to see the excitement around that program. We have not had any type of benefit for immigrants since May of 88 when amnesty ended. So it has been a long, long drought. And now for the first time, this is something people can get their hands on, so they are very, very excited, and I am excited as well. CAVANAUGH: People are calling this a form of amnesty. Is that what you would call it? VELASQUEZ: No, it's not. And DHS have gone out of their way to tell people, with we're not giving you legal status. We're giving you something different. It's not a green card. It's not something that you will keep permanent he. And the question in everybody's mind, what is going to happen come September if Romney gets elected? So they are concerned if terms of how long the program will be in effect. CAVANAUGH: What you are finding is the biggest challenge helping those coming into your office? VELASQUEZ: The No. 1 challenge is students who graduated from high school more than five years ago. They have a high school diploma, but tell be difficult to demonstrate the five years of continuous residence for the last five year, which would be June 15th, 2007, until the present. Those are the challenging cases. They can bring employment receipts, tax return, but many of them live with their parents. They have don't have utility receipt, contract, they have nothing. So as opposed to someone like Lupe, who graduated from high school last year then immediately went onto college, she has never stopped going to school. She has an easy case for us. But students who graduated many years ago, those are the difficult ones. CAVANAUGH: What kind of guidance is available for people who want to see whether or not their documentation actually is -- will be qualified to be accepted under this new program? VELASQUEZ: Fortunately in San Diego, the community has been very, very organized about having workshops throughout the county. I think there's two today, there's another meeting of the Mexican consolate. Everywhere you will see organizations trying to assist students. In North County, they're going to gather hundreds of students. There will be many immigration lawyers on the floor advising people. So I think it's important that people do neat guidance. If they don't have the resource, it's okay. CAVANAUGH: Last year, California governor Jerry Brown assigned the California dream act which Alus people who are undocumented to go to college and apply for grant, but this new program adds another level on that. When you submit your documentation, you are qualified and you are in this program, what will you be able to do that you can't do now? SANDOVAL: Well, first of all, working. As an undocumented student I can't take out federal loans. So working and being able to pay my college tuition, that's really going to be helpful. Also taking out my ID and taking out my driver's license, which those to are essential for any student here in California, especially. CAVANAUGH: Exactly, and how about a pass port? Will you be able to apply for that as well? SANDOVAL: No. CAVANAUGH: No passport? VELASQUEZ: Well, the passport is a nationality document. But she cannot get any type of visa as a result of this particular program. CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, so you started going to college. What are you majoring in? SANDOVAL: Philosophy and creative writing. CAVANAUGH: A lot of young people have visions after college, how they're going to pursue their career. Before this program developed, what did you see for yourself? SANDOVAL: I obviously saw myself graduating college. I always had the vision of graduating, but right now, it's really difficult for any U.S. citizen to find work. So I knew that was going to be ten times as hard for find work being undocumented. But with this, I can definitely graduate, and I can definitely start working legally. CAVANAUGH: Critic, Lilia, like Republican Congressman Duncan hunter here in San Diego, they are pointing out that only Congress can set immigration policy, not the president. How concerned therefore are you that this new program may be discontinued? VELASQUEZ: I am not continued, No. 1, even if Romney were to be elected. If he were to cancel this policy, I think he will alienate more than the Latino community. And hopefully his advisors will say just let it go on. Because otherwise people will hate you. This is not a law, and this is the program. Congress makes laws. The executive branch can make policies. And the this is a policy. Clearly, this is within the perview, and the authority of the executive branch to do. But critics say is this is not right. The right thing would be for those ideas to be presented to the Congress, let them debate the issue, and let them approve the law. Then is becomes certainly more solid, and you can rely on it that this is the law. This is a policy CAVANAUGH: It sounds in a sense that you agree with the critics who say this really should be a law. It's something that Congress should decide. VELASQUEZ: Ideally, that should have been done by the Congress. The problem is that for more than ten years, they debated it, and they haven't been able to approve it. At which point do you say the Congress is not going to agree, and therefore we have to do something else? Let's go to plan B. CAVANAUGH: Are there still immigrant activists who are encouraging people to delay applying for this program because of the uncertainty of the second Obama term, and the idea that Mitt Romney may get in the presidency and overturn this policy? VELASQUEZ: Oh, absolutely. I think that maybe 25% of my colleagues say I'm not taking any cases for deferred action. The majority of us because the students are so eager, and they're calling us, we can't turn them away and say wait until November. What is really superintendent for practitioners to only submit cases that are clean. I love it when mothers bring me the transcript of their kids. And I see straight As. That gives me chills. And the immediately would say I clean homes for a living, and I'm so proud of my daughter, and the mother begins to cry, and the daughter begins to cry, and I get teary-eyed. It's been very emotional for me because it's personal. As a person who came here over when I was 18 years of age, I see myself reflected in those kids, and I realize how difficult it is to overcome the language barrier, to get integrated into the community. So I am proud as well of those immigrant students. CAVANAUGH: I'm going to ask you about another gray area of this new policy. What happens if an application for this program is rejected? Can it lead to deportation? VELASQUEZ: Yes. And this is why we have to be very careful with those cases. In fact we have been advised that we should include that in the retainer agreement, that there's no guarantee that this application will be approved, that there's no appeal, and that if the person meets a certain profile, they could end up charged with deportation. And so it's really up to the lawyers to be ethical and to only submit cases that are clearly eligible. CAVANAUGH: Does it matter therefore as you say, as you so movingly put it, you see application where is people have straight As, and everybody's worked so hard to get this kind of documentation, but does that matter if somebody has a C on their report card, or if somebody in the family has not had a completely straight, clean life? Is that going to reflect on the person who actually applying for this program? VELASQUEZ: I don't think they're getting poor grades a lot of certificates of recognition in in high school is not a reason. But you need to bring those grades up. This law is for people that have potential. This is for people that need to achieve their dream. What dream can you achieve with those grades? And so it's also a time for me to shake up the students and say get on the ball, because we want this program to be successful. When we reflect on it 32 years from now, people will say wow, that was a good thing that we did, and it worked. And hopefully that will give impetus to the Congress at looking at all the students who were able to integrate into the economy who are paying taxes and stimulating businesses that this was a plus all the way. CAVANAUGH: Now, what happens after the two-year deportation deferral? Is it just automatically renewed? VELASQUEZ: No, nothing is automatically renewed. We do need to pay the government fees, and in this case, it's $465 per application. What is contemplated is that before the expiration of the two-year work permit, applicants will be able to renew and pay the fees once again because the fee for $380 is for the work permit, and $85 for the fingerprint fee, so those things need to be redone, and the students need to pay again. CAVANAUGH: Lupe, I want to end this discussion with you. And as you've been thinking about applying, as this program, the details of it have sort of got you thinking about staying in this conserve and living a life, what kind of changes do you think this program will actually make in your life? SANDOVAL: Well, not just in my life. But I would say in the life of thousands, maybe millions of students that are able to obtain this. It's definitely going to -- we came here when we were young so we always feel American, even though our document says otherwise. And being able to stay in this country, work for this country, support it economically, this is a huge -- really something -- this is not what we wanted, but is this a big step. And I think if we continue working through this, we can finally achieve our dreams of staying here and being citizens. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both.

Additional Resources

US Citizenship and Immigration Services

Equality Alliance, San Diego

Dreamer Assistance Network

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."

Corrected:
City News Service contributed to this report.