Immigration attorneys and advocates cautioned undocumented youth on Wednesday to be careful and seek legal help when applying for the new federal program that will grant a temporary work permit to qualifying illegal immigrants.
Fresno immigration experts say some of the application requirements for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals are unclear, and they worry that rejected applicants will have no recourse to appeal the decision -- or worse, they and their families could be subject to deportation.
These concerns and other lingering uncertainties about the bold new immigration initiative that President Barack Obama unveiled two months ago prompted Fresno State to join forces with immigrant youth advocates, attorneys and community organizations to open a help center this week. The center, staffed by 80 volunteers, will help undocumented youths and their families navigate the application process at no cost.
The new coalition -- Deferred Action Dreamers Coalition -- launched the help center Wednesday, the first day Homeland Security officials began accepting applications. By 7:30 a.m., a long line had already formed outside the center, which opened at 9 a.m. Elsewhere in Fresno on Wednesday, groups of youth advocates were prepping for educational workshops, and the Mexican Consulate spent the day assisting large crowds of Mexican nationals applying for deferred status and cautioning immigrants to avoid scam artists.
The warnings didn't appear to dampen the enthusiasm of young DREAMers -- the name given to undocumented students advocating for federal passage of the DREAM Act -- who say the deferment program is a landmark victory in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.
"We are one step closer to obtaining the dream," said Oday Guerrero of the Central Valley Dream Team, which advocates for equal access to education for undocumented youth. "But this is not the end. This is not a path to citizenship. We still have a long way to go."
Fresno State senior Yadira Arreguin came to California illegally from Mexico in 1999, when she was 9. She has been struggling to buy books and pay tuition with a meager salary working the fields or waiting tables -- the only jobs she could get without legal identification.
Arreguin, a child development major, said she hopes to get a job working with at-risk children and gain some experience before applying to graduate school.
"I have the opportunity to work in something that I really want to do," she said. "So I'm going for it."
Arreguin, 22, plans to apply for deferred status this week.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals relaxes immigration rules for those who meet a list of criteria -- immigrants must be younger than 31 as of June 15; have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday; have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007; be in school, have graduated or have a GED, or be an honorably discharged veteran; and not be convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors. If approved, they qualify in California for a work permit that allows them to get a Social Security number and a drivers license -- and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation for at least two years.
But just how easy it will be to get that permit and how long it may take remain to be seen. Applications must be mailed to one of four processing centers in the U.S. -- there is no option to submit online. The $465 fee covers the work permit and fingerprinting. Immigration authorities do not offer an estimated processing time, but some attorneys say applications will take about three to six months. There is no deadline to apply.
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