TULARE, Calif. -- In an animal laboratory in central California's dairy country, Juan Carlos Martin cleaned and fed dozens of cows.
Smuggled through a U.S. border checkpoint in a car at age 13, the Mexico native had hoped for an education and career, but started working full time at the end of high school after an accident incapacitated his father.
Now 23, Martin was surprised to learn this week that he may be eligible for the new federal program that temporarily defers deportation and grants work permits to young illegal immigrants.
Much of the attention surrounding the program that began last Wednesday has focused on students. But researchers say it could also benefit hundreds of thousands of young adults working in low-wage industries such as agriculture.
"The stereotype about the young people who are eligible is that they're college students and academic superstars that speak English perfectly. And that is, of course, not true for all of them," said Ed Kissam, a labor policy researcher.
To be eligible, immigrants must prove they arrived in the United States before they turned 16, were younger than 31 as of June 15, have been living in the country at least five years, are in school or graduated, and have not been convicted of certain crimes.
The program is also open to individuals who haven't graduated high school or received a GED, as long as they enroll in an adult education program, vocational training or even English language instruction.
Agricultural workers like Martin say a work permit and the benefits that come with it could open doors previously closed, leading to better paying jobs, improved working conditions and benefits, and a path to higher education.
"This would change my whole life," said Martin, a high school graduate. "I came to this country with the goal of studying and getting ahead. But you really can't do it without a work permit, a Social Security number and a drivers' license."
Despite the possibilities, workers and advocates say farmworkers and others who are out of school could face significant hurdles when applying: a lack of information about the program, limited English skills, little access to legal advice and limited access to adult school to fulfill the program's education requirement.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals does not grant legal residency or a path to citizenship.
More than half of the 1 million young illegal immigrants eligible for the program are in the labor force, mostly working in low-wage industries – holding either a high school degree or GED, or lacking a degree altogether, an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute shows.
Agriculture could be one of the most affected. Two-thirds of farmworkers are foreign-born Mexicans, the majority without legal status, and many are young – more than half are under the age of 31, according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey. Data from the survey shows that at least 54,000 farmworkers could qualify for the program.
Jaime Hernandez, 23, who picks strawberries in the Santa Maria area for $8 per hour, found out about the program from a friend and is hoping to apply.
Hernandez, who crossed the Arizona desert with his parents at age 11, dropped out of high school in Madera, Calif., to work in the fields and help his family make ends meet. He recently finished a GED course, but never took the diploma exam, because his 10-hour workdays didn't leave him time. He now plans to sign up for the test.
If he is granted a work permit, he plans to get a better-paying job, and go back to school to become a lawyer or a radio engineer.
"I'm afraid, I don't have the money to pay for a lawyer, and I don't know if I am guaranteed acceptance or if I will be rejected," Hernandez said. "But still, it's worth it ... I'm not giving up."
Organizations helping eligible applicants say many workers don't know they may be eligible.
"Working people in the fields, many don't understand the program," said Ramiro Medrano, an adviser with the Pajaro Valley Unified School District near Watsonville, which is holding an information session about the program Sunday. "Most call about their kids. When I ask them, `How old are you?' it turns out the parents could qualify."
The UFW Foundation has also been holding information sessions and phone meetings with farmworker union locals to spread the word.
For eligible workers who have never filled out an application and speak little English, applying for Deferred Action is intimidating, said the group's Richard Gorman. "Our hope is that once they have papers, once you take away the fear of deportation, that will encourage workers to stand up for themselves and for others in their own workplaces, to form a union or complain to their boss when there is a problem."
Some farmers are worried the program could cut into their workforce. One group of growers, the Nisei Farmers League, is discouraging farmworkers from applying, worried workers or their families could be deported once their addresses are given to the federal government.
Another worry: Because the application for work authorization asks for all previously used Social Security numbers, the information could lead the government to track down agricultural employers who hired the illegal workers and subject them to audits or sanctions, said the league's president, Manuel Cunha.
"There is no safe haven at the end of the day," Cunha said.
Federal immigration officials have said they won't use information from the applications for immigration enforcement against workers. Officials declined to comment on whether information provided by applicants would be used to prosecute or audit employers.
Related on HuffPost:
What is Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals?
Deferred action temporarily prevents deportation of an individual that resides in the United States without a lawful immigration status. <u>It does not give or result in lawful status</u> for the individual, and can be terminated or renewed at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Deferred action does not excuse any past or future period of unlawful presence, however, individuals whose requests are accepted will not increase their unlawful presence in the country while under the action. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a new directive introduced by the Obama Administration on June 15, 2012. The policy shift will allow individuals unlawfully brought into the U.S. as children, and who meet certain guidelines, to apply for two years of deferred action subject to renewal and termination at the discretion of the DHS. Once deferred action has been granted, individuals qualify to obtain work authorization in the United States if he or she can prove "an economic necessity for employment." Those applying must meet all specified guidelines, but decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=f2ef2f19470f7310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=f2ef2f19470f7310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD" target="_hplink">Source: USCIS</a>
Who Is Eligible?
Individuals currently in removal proceedings, with final orders for removal or with voluntary departure orders, qualify as long as they are not in immigration detention. Those who are in detention can request consideration for deferred action from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Anyone who meets <strong>ALL</strong> 7 guidelines outlined by the Obama Administration is eligible to request deferred action from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Seven Requirements For Eligibility
Applicants must: 1) Be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012. You must be at least 15 years of age, with some exceptions.* 2) Have come into the U.S. <u>before</u> the age of 16. 3) Have lived in the U.S. permanently since June 15, 2012. Some travel acceptable.* 4) Have been physically in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and when applying for deferred action. 5) Have entered the U.S. without inspection before June 15, 2012 or have had their lawful immigration status expire since then. 6) Be currently enrolled in school at the time of the request. Also eligible are individuals who have graduated from high school, obtained a GED certificate, or are a honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces. 7) Have not been convicted of a felony, "significant misdemeanor, 3 or more other misdemeanors," and/or are not seen as a threat to national security or public safety. <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=f2ef2f19470f7310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=f2ef2f19470f7310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD" target="_hplink">*Check USCIS website for details.</a>
How To Apply?
<strong>Before applying</strong>: On their website, the USCIS presents applicants with tips to <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.e8b24a3cec33ca34c48bfc10526e0aa0/?vgnextoid=b9563ab7b8f3b210VgnVCM10000025e6a00aRCRD&vgnextchannel=b9563ab7b8f3b210VgnVCM10000025e6a00aRCRD" target="_hplink">ways to avoid scams</a>. In addition, the USCIS lists <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.e8b24a3cec33ca34c48bfc10526e0aa0/?vgnextoid=0dcc051e2286b210VgnVCM10000025e6a00aRCRD&vgnextchannel=678c051e2286b210VgnVCM10000025e6a00aRCRD" target="_hplink">Before and After Filing Tips</a>, help in finding <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.e8b24a3cec33ca34c48bfc10526e0aa0/?vgnextoid=03be051e2286b210VgnVCM10000025e6a00aRCRD&vgnextchannel=963e051e2286b210VgnVCM10000025e6a00aRCRD" target="_hplink">accredited legal services</a> to aid individuals file for deferred action, and examples of <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.e8b24a3cec33ca34c48bfc10526e0aa0/?vgnextoid=148522800d9bb210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=7a5ca25b1279f210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD" target="_hplink">common scams to avoid.</a> <strong>Applying</strong>: USCIS begins accepting applications on August 15, 2012. Any requests received prior to this date will be rejected. For consideration, individuals must submit the following (next slide) to the USCIS Lockbox.
Forms and Fee
The application consists of: 1) A completed and signed, <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=05faf6c546129310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=db029c7755cb9010VgnVCM10000045f3d6a1RCRD" target="_hplink">Form I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival</a>. Forms should include evidence to support that you meet all 7 guidelines of eligibility. 2) <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=73ddd59cb7a5d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6a1RCRD&vgnextchannel=db029c7755cb9010VgnVCM10000045f3d6a1RCRD" target="_hplink">Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization</a> 3) <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/Forms/Form Pages/i-765ws.pdf" target="_hplink">Form I-765WS, Worksheet</a> (which establishes your economic need for employment) 4) Filing fees for Form I-765, which total to $465.
All applicants will undergo a background check. Once the forms and fee are received and deemed complete by the USCIS, applicants will receive a receipt notice. The applicant can complete an additional form if he or she <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=d9056d4e88ac3210VgnVCM100000b92ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=db029c7755cb9010VgnVCM10000045f3d6a1RCRD" target="_hplink">would like to receive this notice electronically</a>. Afterwards, the USCIS will send applicants notice of their mandatory appointment at an Application Support Center (ASC) for biometric services.
Fee waivers for the work authorization application and biometric collection cannot be requested, very limited exceptions exist.* Denial of deferred action does not mean applicants will be placed in removal proceedings, however under exceptional circumstances cases may be referred to ICE.* Deferred action can be extended past the initial two year period unless terminated. USCIS's determination may not be appealed, though cases can be reviewed in certain circumstances.* Applicants should NOT travel outside of the United States as of August 15, 2012. Doing so will make the applicant ineligible for deferred action consideration. <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=f2ef2f19470f7310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=f2ef2f19470f7310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD" target="_hplink">*Check USCIS website for details.</a>
How Many People Will Get Relief?
According to The Immigration Policy Center, <a href="http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/who-and-where-dreamers-are" target="_hplink">approximately 1.4 million immigrants in the United States are expected to meet the 7 guidelines</a> of the deferred action initiative, now or in the future. An estimated 936,930 meet those requirements as of August 15, 2012. California (412,560), Texas (226,700), Florida (85,750), and New York (70,170) are the states with the highest number of expected beneficiaries. <a href="http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/who-and-where-dreamers-are" target="_hplink">Click to view complete chart.</a> Mexican immigrants make up almost 70% of those eligible.
Opposition To Deferred Action
<a href="http://www.hstoday.us/briefings/today-s-news-analysis/single-article/dhs-unveils-guidance-for-deferred-action-for-qualfied-young-illegal-aliens/421b6b17eb43472ec0702b4d7c67c602.html" target="_hplink">Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas)</a>, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee: <blockquote>"In order to process the millions of applications from illegal immigrants, the Obama administration will have to divert funding and other resources from processing legal immigration applications. This will lead to a backlog for legal immigrants who followed the rules, while allowing lawbreakers to skip to the front of the line." Adding that the policy shift is an "open invitation for fraud" during the application process. </blockquote> The directive is <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hiVdc_qD32hV9d6M_29OxHtAjM3A?docId=a822d4de77c04dbcb5ba0af5db581166" target="_hplink">expected to cost $585 million. </a> Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in an <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3460_162-57454773/romney-immigration-needs-long-term-fix-not-stop-gap/" target="_hplink">interview with CBS News</a>: <blockquote>"With regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is."</blockquote>