Understanding Deferred Action
As many readers already know, this past June 15 the Obama administration issued a directive that allows certain young people who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own as young children to be considered for relief from deportation. These young people, who would have benefited from the DREAM Act had it been approved by Congress, may additionally be eligible for a work permit that is renewable every two years. This relief is called “deferred action.”
Churches and people of faith can play a role in making sure that the approximately 1.4 million individuals who may benefit from this form of legal relief can apply for it. The first step is to identify these individuals in our congregations in order to make them aware of deferred action. In order to be eligible for it, young people must meet the following criteria:
- They must have arrived in the United States before the age of sixteen.
- They must have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding June 15, 2012 and must have been present in the country on that same date.
- They must currently be enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or be honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed forces of the United States.
- They must have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise constitute a threat to national security or public safety.
- They must not be older than thirty years of age.
It is important to note that there is still no process available for anyone to apply for deferred action at this point. USCIS has announced that there will be an application process for this type of relief within 60 days. Anyone who applies for deferred action before then will be rejected.
Deferred action is not amnesty. It does not grant legal permanent residency and it does not place anyone who benefits from it in a pathway to legal permanent residency. It is simply an extension of the prosecutorial discretion already in place since June of last year that now also includes the young people known already in our culture as “DREAMers.”
According to the most recent information provided by USCIS, August 1st is the tentative target date for unveiling the application process. August 14 is the date when people can officially submit their applications. In light of this information, it is imperative that those who apply start gathering evidence to support their eligibility according to the criteria stated above. This evidence may include, but not be limited to: school records (diplomas, GED certificates, school transcripts, report cards), medical records, employment records, financial records and military records (report of separation forms, military personnel records, military health records).
Much has been asked about what the term “significant misdemeanor offense” means, and USCIS has provided the following definition: “federal, state or local criminal offenses punishable by no more than one year of imprisonment or even no imprisonment that involves: violence, threats, or assault, including domestic violence; sexual abuse or exploitation; burglary, larceny, or fraud; driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; obstruction of justice or bribery; unlawful flight from arrest, prosecution, or the scene of an accident; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; drug distribution or trafficking; or unlawful possession of a drug”.
Churches may also participate and be helpful to the young people this form of legal relief seeks to benefit by educating them thoroughly on this issue. Young people must be made aware of all the facts regarding deferred action. For more information on it, it is always advisable to go to the USCIS website and read what they publish, as this is first-hand information. Please visit www.usaid.gov for more information.
Beginning on June 18, USCIS will open a hotline at 1-800-375-5283. It will be available from 8 am to 8 pm every day, in English and Spanish. It will provide updated information on deferred action.
The third and last way in which churches can be helpful is by being proactive about young people not falling into the hands of notarios, or dishonest individuals who practice law without a license and often scam undocumented immigrants out of thousands of dollars. Notarios are a significant problem in the State of Texas, and people of faith must make sure that all individuals in need of legal representation within their sphere of influence can find it safely. Go to the ISAAC Project webpage (www.isaacproject.org) and you will find a valuable resource: a roster of non-profit agencies that provide legal services to immigrants and are recognized and accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals in Texas. Download the roster here (PDF).
The roster includes addresses and phone numbers. You may also contact Jesús Romero at 210-633-6257 for guidance regarding trustworthy immigration attorneys in Texas.