Obama Deportation Policy Change: Groups Help Immigrants Prepare To Apply For Reprieve

This article comes to us courtesy of California Watch.

By Joanna Lin

Scarlette Kim woke up on the morning of June 15 to an email announcing a policy she had long been waiting for: The Obama administration would stop deporting immigrants like her who came to the United States illegally as young children.

"I was ecstatic," said Kim, who will be a junior studying mathematics and economics this fall at UCLA.

Kim, who did not learn she was an undocumented immigrant until she was a senior in high school, years after she emigrated from Sao Paulo, Brazil, at age 6, said excitement soon gave way to questions: How many of her peers would be eligible under the new policy? Could they finally get drivers licenses?

Kim is not the only immigrant seeking answers. Community groups have been fielding calls and emails from immigrants asking questions about the policy since President Barack Obama made the announcement last month, said Betty Hung, policy director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

"There's just a real hunger and thirst for more information," she said.

The policy [PDF] benefits DREAMers – immigrants who would be eligible for permanent residency under the DREAM Act, legislation that has sought congressional passage for more than a decade.

To be eligible, immigrants must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16, have lived here for at least the past five years and be no more than 30 years old. They must also be in school, be high school graduates or honorably discharged veterans, and have no serious criminal records.

If an immigrant qualifies and applies under the new policy, Homeland Security officials may grant deferred action – a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation that will also allow him or her to apply for a work permit. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will announce an application process for deferred action by mid-August.

More than 800,000 people could benefit from the new policy, according to Obama administration estimates. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that as many as 1.4 million people – about 70 percent of whom are from Mexico – could be eligible.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent the second-largest group of DREAMers; a 2010 report [PDF] from the University of California Office of the President estimated that Asians made up 45 percent of undocumented UC students.

The majority of undocumented Asians are from the Philippines, India, Korea and China and comprise diverse cultures, languages and immigration histories, Hung said. As a group, they've generally had few resources for support, organization and information, she said.

"These are folks who have been living in fear, in the shadows," Hung said. "Part of what the challenge is going to be is to ensure that the intent and purpose of this new deferred action policy is really enforced and implemented."

For Kim, who is helping immigrants in the process of naturalization this summer as an intern at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles, the policy is an important first step on what she hopes is a path to citizenship.

"It's ironic, right?" Kim said of her job. She hopes she can help herself through the naturalization process some day.

On Wednesday, the center and other community organizations will hold a forum in Los Angeles for Asian American and Pacific Islander DREAMers and their parents to discuss the policy's eligibility requirements, prepare for the application process and avoid becoming a victim of fraud. The forum seeks to provide accurate information that is also culturally and linguistically appropriate, Hung said.

"There will be many high school students, for example, whose parents will be helping them to try to apply. We know that many parents are also limited English proficient, so being able to provide information and assistance in their native languages will be critical," she said.

Until the application process is announced, the center recommends immigrants start preparing paperwork that establishes their residency and education, such as school records and diplomas.

Potential applicants should be wary of self-proclaimed immigration experts offering help in exchange for high fees. Instead, they should consult experienced, licensed immigration attorneys or contact the center for help, Hung said.

Joanna Lin is an investigative reporter for California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Find more California Watch stories here.