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August 31, 2015

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Obama administration releases details on DREAMer deportation waivers

The Department of Homeland Security issued final regulations Friday dictating specifics for how undocumented youths who were brought illegally to the United States as children can apply for two-year deportation waivers starting Aug. 15.

Eligible individuals who meet the requirements, which include proof of age, proof of residency and date of entry into the U.S., will be able to receive renewable work authorization permits good for up to two years. A $465 processing fee will be assessed for the permit.

But in Nevada, advocates and lawyers for the state’s estimated 22,000 potential beneficiaries of the new policy still have many unanswered questions.

President Barack Obama announced in June that the administration would implement a new policy for the so-called “DREAMers,” youths named after the long-lingering legislation that would offer many of them a pathway to become U.S. citizens.

Obama’s new policy doesn’t go that far. Instead, it offers two-year work authorization permits for undocumented immigrants under age 30, who entered the U.S. as children and have since enrolled in a college or enlisted in the military. The young adults also must have a clean criminal record.

On Friday, the administration released more details on what documents they intend to accept as proof of eligibility and what their standards will be for review. They also explained what the U.S. Customs and Information Service will do with data it collects on undocumented immigrants, for whom entering information into a government database has previously been tantamount to volunteering for deportation.

“If your case does not involve a criminal offense, fraud or a threat to national security or public safety, your case will not be referred to ICE for purposes of removal proceedings,” the regulations state. In other words, tell the truth, and we won’t deport you.

But that doesn’t mean everyone who tells the truth officially obtains legal status for the next two years.

Every applicant will have to go through a full biometric and background check before their applications can be approved—a more rigorous process than has been used in the past.

According to the printed rules, anyone whose background check turns up a felony or serious misdemeanor will have their application rejected, and they may be subject to deportation proceedings.

The administration is defining a serious misdemeanor as any jailable offense for which the individual spent at least 90 days in prison. That could include domestic violence, exploitation, and in certain situations, convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol, according to lawyers.

For those with records deemed clean enough to proceed, several secretarial hurdles remain. The government plans to accept foreign documents, such as birth certificates, as proof of age – which lawyers say are fairly easy for most to obtain. But things could get a bit tricky when it comes to proving that they came to the country as a child – and were here continuously ever since.

The administration has made clear that they do not intend to accept sworn affidavits as proof of residency, except to fill in blanks. That is somewhat of a change from the past. During the Reagan administration’s 1986 legalization of undocumented immigrants, for example, sworn affidavits were accepted as proof of employment.

Because Nevada does not issue state IDs to undocumented adults or their children, there are only a few options for DREAMers’ to prove residency, the best of which are school records.

“If they can show that they went to kindergarten, or fourth grade, and hopefully every year after that, that’s going to prove not only when they came in, but that they lived here through to getting a diploma,” said Peter Ashman, an immigration lawyer in Las Vegas, who said he has met with about 40 to 50 potential beneficiaries of the new policy. “The school records will go a long way.”

Spokespeople for the Clark County School District did not immediately respond to a request about whether they’ve seen a spike in records’ requests.

The Mexican Consulate in Las Vegas also did not immediately return an emailed request for information. The Las Vegas Sun was not able to reach anybody at the consulate by phone, and the voicemail box was full.

There is still no clear estimate as to how many people will turn out on the 15th.

There’s an element of political uncertainty: While Obama has set a policy of having renewable status every two years, there is no guarantee that whomever succeeds him – whether that happens in six months or in four and a half years – will continue the policy. In that case, it is not clear what will happen with the information the government has collected.

But there’s also still an element of practical uncertainty. The government still hasn’t released certain basic information, such as what the application form will look like, where potential applicants can retrieve it, or where they will have to submit it in order to be considered.

“I had hoped that they would be able to tell us more specifically how this application’s going to be filed,” Ashman said. “We’ve known the requirement for it since the June 15 announcement. But I’m a lot more concerned at this point about the logistics.”

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