“The Right Thing To Do”

Crossposted at Huffington Post

President Obama took a stand last Friday to stop deporting certain young people from the United States and allow them the right to live and work here. Behind his pronouncement was a simple idea – that deferred action for a certain class of young people was “the right thing to do.” But he didn’t arrive at this thought overnight. Undocumented youth organizers, who have been organizing for this change for more than a decade, were the real catalysts for this change.

No one person or organization deserves credit for a powerful movement that has spawned multiple locales and geographical archipelagos. Undocumented youth took to the streets, came out and proclaimed themselves as undocumented and unafraid, conducted civil disobedience actions in offices and ICE buildings and challenged the system at every turn. We were adamant that we are a part of America, not leaving and no longer willing to be ignored. We created social and political spaces, took politicians to task and stuck by our principles of holding both Republicans and Democrats accountable to immigrant communities. Every single person who came out of the shadows and worked on this campaign deserves to celebrate and give themselves a pat on the back.

But even after the announcement, many undocumented youth organizers continue to be skeptical and rightly so. After all, this is not an order from the President, who has deported over a million people. It is merely a memo from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, quite similar to the unsuccessful memo issued by John Morton last year, which resulted in a reprieve of only 1.5% of cases in deportation proceedings. Attorney Dave Bennion lays out the problems with the new memo, noting that those who are denied deferred action may still be subject to deportation proceedings and far too many people will be excluded for simply having a felony or misdemeanor, terms that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is choosing to define much more broadly in the implementation of this policy. Additionally, the fact that the process is highly discretionary means that there is no way to appeal even illegitimate denials.

However, if executed right, this new deferred action plan for a class of young undocumented people promises to be a pilot program for how the government would carry out the implementation of any future legalization program. It also raises questions as to why the federal government cannot grant the same relief to same-sex bi-national couples, many of whom have lived here for a long time and face separation from their homes and their U.S. citizen partners.

We have won a tiny victory – a simple reprieve – but the war is far from over. My own personal thoughts go out to everyone who has aged out, everyone the Obama Administration has deported ruthlessly, everyone who has grown tired of waiting for their life to begin and left us, and everyone who is still languishing in detention without hope. Additionally, undocumented youth do not live single-issue lives and immigration is not our only problem. We are personally affected by a slow economy, a pitiful healthcare system and an education system that leaves far too many of us behind, among a myriad of other issues.

In the meanwhile, I’m still fighting deportation proceedings–not just my own, but that of many worthy clients who come through the doors of America on a daily basis, yearning to live out their dreams. When the celebrations die down, I’ll still be here, fighting for their dreams. That is also, the right thing to do.

Obama Announces Relief for Some Undocumented Youth

After years of organizing from undocumented youth, the Obama Administration has relented and granted immunity from deportation to certain young people in the United States without legal status.

The news comes on the heels of undocumented youth occupying Obama for America offices around the country, with requests for an executive order to stop the deportation of DREAM Act eligible youth.

The memo from DHS indicates that eligible applicants must:
• Be 15-30 years old, and have entered before age 16
• Have been present in the U.S. for 5 years as of June 15, 2012
• Have maintained continuous residence
• Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety;
• Are currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.

The deferred action offer will be available to those in proceedings as well as to those who apply affirmatively.

“Deferred action” will last for two years and can be renewed.

DHS has released a FAQ for those with more questions which is available here.

This process is not yet in effect and requests should not be submitted at this time. In the coming weeks, USCIS will outline and announce the procedures by which individuals can engage in this process. Beginning June 18, individuals may call the USCIS hotline at 1-800-375-5283, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with questions or to request more information on the new process. The hotline offers assistance in English and Spanish. Individuals seeking more information on the new process should visit USCIS’s website (at http://www.uscis.gov).

Individuals who believe they can demonstrate that they satisfy the eligibility criteria and are about to be removed should immediately contact either the Law Enforcement Support Center’s hotline at 1-855-448-6903 (staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) or the ICE Office of the Public Advocate through the Office’s hotline at 1-888-351-4024 (staffed 9am – 5pm, Monday – Friday) or by e-mail at EROPublicAdvocate@ice.dhs.gov.

Documentation sufficient for an individual to demonstrate that he or she has resided in the United States for at five years immediately preceding June 15, 2012 includes, but is not limited to: financial records, medical records, school records, employment records, and military records.

Documentation sufficient for an individual to demonstrate that he or she came to the United States before the age of 16 includes, but is not limited to: financial records, medical records, school records, employment records, and military records

A note of caution to everyone in removal proceedings who may be eligible for adjustment of status to that of a green card holder: if the deferred action is not renewed or Obama loses re-election, it may be difficult to initiate removal proceedings to get relief again. Please consult with your lawyer.