It’s only a little over two weeks since President Obama opened up deferred action status to certain undocumented young people.
Many in the Hispanic community have been busy filling out the paperwork and gathering the necessary evidence to qualify for deferred action, which would grant two years of safety from deportation.
Eighteen-year-old Pedro (not his real name) is one of them.
Much To Gain
Pedro has a lot of signatures to scrawl, on a stack of formidable-looking federal forms.
Brian Buie is an immigration attorney in Tulsa. He explains what deferred action means.
“Essentially, it’s a two-year safety net,” he said. “Immigration is not going to be actively be looking for you and is not going to actively deport you.”
It’s a process traditionally meant for undocumented immigrants who have already entered removal proceedings.
They can apply for deferred action in order to have the government set aside their deportation in favor of other, higher priority cases.
President Obama’s “executive request,” as Buie calls it, extends deferred action eligibility to anyone who came to the U.S. before 16 and was 30 or younger as of June 15, 2012; who has resided continuously in the U.S. for five years; who is either in school, graduated from high school or earned a G.E.D. or earned an honorable discharge from the U.S. military; who has no felonies or serious misdemeanors and does not pose a national security threat.
“The United States Government has absolutely no interest in deporting a 15-year-old,” Buie explained, “or someone who’s going to school, or just simply working, who, the only reason they’re here is because they were brought here as a minor.”
That is Pedro's situation. He came here when he was three, and says he remembers little of Mexico, except what he has heard in stories.
“I consider myself more American than Mexican,” he said. “I love football, I eat hamburgers, hotdogs, anything, you name it - even barbeque. I still believe that Kansas City has the best barbeque."
There are a few key differences, of course. He can’t get a part time job, for instance, because he can’t provide a work authorization.
But that’s one thing that he hopes will change soon—he’s also submitted a request for employment eligibility.
To qualify, you have to be able to demonstrate financial need, but the guidelines on how to do that are vague, so success is less certain than with the main deferred action application.
Not the Dream Act
Still, Pedro’s hoping. He recounts the moment he first heard about the new deferred action rule.
“I got an email from one of my really good friends saying I should check out this article, and I looked at it and thought, it’s probably spam, he’s playing around, playing a joke,” he said. But then, reading the news, “I actually found out that it was actually true. And it was the biggest smile I ever had.”
“It’s not the Dream Act,” he added, “but it does help a lot.”
One reason for that: as long as the new rule is in place, Pedro can continue to reapply for deferred action every two years. And, as Buie stresses, your eligibility doesn’t run out when you turn 31.
“You keep it as long as you continue to renew,” he said.
Still, “President Obama could end it; if the presidency changes, it could end it; Congress could come out with a law that negates this,” he cautions. “This is not a law.”
That’s why people like Pedro are still hoping for a Dream Act or something similar to pass Congress.
Pedro says if he does qualify for deferred action, it still won’t alter some of the precautions he takes, like not telling his friends at school about his situation. But, he says, he’ll worry about it less.
“This is actually giving me a little bit of a cushion,” he said, “until better immigration laws come out, until I can stop hiding in the shadow.”
A Process and a Sacrifice
The process hasn’t been easy. Proving continuous residence for five years within the eligible time period is complicated. Buie’s attorney fee is $1000 dollars, plus a $465 fee that goes to the government.
“It’s just my mother and I; my father left me when I was pretty young,” Pedro said. “It’s a little bit of a struggle to pay; we actually cut back on some things to be able to pay. Hopefully when the visa does come I’ll be eligible to work and actually have enough to pay.”
It’ll be worth it if he qualifies. His attorney says he has a good shot.
“Obviously this is still discretionary; it’s still up the individual officer that reviews the case file,” Buie said. “So I can’t sit here and say, 'Yeah, you’re going to get approval on this'. And anyone that says they can guarantee an approval—they’re wrong. You can’t.”
“He’s got a very good case,” he said.
Now, it’s a waiting game. It’ll likely take several weeks, with so many applications coming in.
In the meantime, Pedro has his senior year to deal with, which includes applying for college, another process that will be much easier with deferred action status.
And with more visibility among the Hispanic community, he hopes the new rule will break down barriers.
“I do pretty much the same thing as any normal American teenager,” he said. “Just the only thing different—when I go home, instead of having hamburgers, I have tacos.”
As we leave the office, I wish Pedro good luck with a tough senior year. He says thanks. He’s going home to finish up his homework.