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Start of deferred action program gives immigrants a reason to celebrate

An estimated 1.7 million are eligible nationwide; immigrants hopeful but cautious


Civil rights activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta shows her Presidential Medal of Freedom to the crowd at an event on deferred action. Huerta said that on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, the first day that young immigrats without a legal residency status could submit their deferred action applications, was a day for “celebration.” Behind Huerta to the right in the white T-shirt is Astrid Silva, a 24-year-old applicant for deferred action from Las Vegas.

Updated Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 | 9:28 a.m.

Information and assistance for deferred action

  • In addition to information available from the government, several local organizations are offering assistance to deferred action applicants.
  • The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s website is dedicated to deferred action.
  • • Hermandad Mexicana is assisting applicants with their paperwork for a $75 fee and can be reached at 598-0052.
  • • The Culinary Union will have a Sept. 3 workshop to help applicants. For more information, call Jose Macias at 624-8084.
  • • Dream Big Vegas, an organization dedicated to supporting the Dream Act, can be reached at 724-5386.
  • • The American Immigration Lawyers Association has a tool on its website to find lawyers by location and expertise.

The U.S. government started accepting applications for the deferred action immigration program Wednesday, and eligible Nevadans are approaching the process with a mixture of optimism and caution.

The prospect of a temporary reprieve from deportation means a host of opportunities will be available to the immigrants, including driver’s licenses, scholarships and jobs. Those who have already acquired their degrees will be able to legally apply for work.

Yet, not all of the regulations governing deferred action are clear-cut, and there are concerns that some applicants will open themselves up to deportation when they turn in their information.

Additionally, there are concerns of fraud on both sides of the equation, either from unscrupulous attorneys and others taking advantage of the applicants with astronomical fees or from the applicants themselves trying to dupe the system.

“I want to go to UNLV in the spring, but honestly, I’m not really sure what direction I’ll take in terms of my career,” said Astrid Silva, 24, who has been one of the public faces of the Dream Act issue in Las Vegas and who hosted an informational meeting Wednesday at the downtown Las Vegas office of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

“These are things that I’ve never been able to fully explore because so many options were closed to me,” she said. “I want to get a driver’s license and go back to school, and then maybe sit down and think about what exactly I want to do. It’s overwhelming.”

Silva said she was not quite ready to turn in her own application because, as the leader of the organization Dream Big Vegas, she has been traveling and helping others get the information they need.

At the meeting, Silva and others offered details about various organizations that are willing to help immigrants navigate the process. Hermandad Mexicana is offering assistance with the paperwork for a $75 administrative fee. The Culinary Union is planning a Sept. 3 workshop at which applicants can get advice from attorneys.

Based on the most recent information about the program requirements, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 1.7 million people would qualify. The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that there are 30,000 potential applicants in Nevada.

Isaac Barron, a teacher at Rancho High School, said he knew hundreds of young people who would qualify for deferred action who felt trapped by their circumstances.

“Every year, kids would come to me, and many of them wouldn’t even find out that they didn’t have papers until they were graduating,” Barron said. “There were tears of joy when it was first announced. But I’ve been teaching long enough that I know kids who are just over the age limit and don’t qualify.”

The deferred action program does not grant the immigrant a lawful status, but it does offer temporary relief from deportation and access to a work permit. The program does not excuse the immigrant's previous unlawful residence in the country.

Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta attended Wednesday’s meeting and called the day an occasion for celebration.

“When I think of the Dream Act, I think of it as a contribution to this country,” said Huerta, who was wearing her Presidential Medal of Freedom. “They are enriching the United States of America, which is the only country they know.”

Since the initial announcement of deferred action on June 15, some aspects of the program have been clarified, but others remain murky.

To qualify, applicants must have been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012; come to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday; continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present; been physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for deferred action; and not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

At first, there were questions about the education requirements in regards to those who dropped out or had not received a high school diploma or its equivalent. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has clarified applications will be accepted from those who have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or U.S. armed forces, have a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate or are enrolled at the time of their application in an educational program that will lead to a degree or the obtainment of job skills, such as vocational programs.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has made it clear that anyone who commits fraud on a deferred action application will be referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prosecuted and placed into deportation proceedings.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is a self-funded branch of the federal government and uses fees to cover the costs of handling applications. The fee for the deferred action application, which includes the deferred action permit and temporary work permit, is $465.

Attorneys are recommending that if an applicant has any doubts, if they are worried about an arrest in their past or a job application that contained a false identification, they should consult a lawyer.

“If you have any questions, go see any attorney and get a consultation,” said Peter Ashman, spokesman for the Las Vegas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “If the attorney is ethical and you have a straightforward case, he can tell you to apply yourself. If someone used a fraudulent Social Security number on a job application, that’s a false claim to citizenship, which is very, very serious. That disqualifies you from everything in the future in terms of immigration provisions. Immigration law is complicated.”

Immigration attorney Andy Driggs, a partner of Ashman’s and current president of the Las Vegas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he saw the travel provision of deferred action as one of the more significant developments.

“Once someone is granted deferred action, they will be able to travel and re-enter the country, which means at that point, they will have a legal entry status,” Driggs said. “That could end up being very significant going forward, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Ashman and Driggs agree this is the biggest U.S. immigration program since Ronald Reagan made 3 million immigrants eligible for amnesty in 1986. They said there was a lot of fraud by applicants then, and many people have the same concern about deferred action.

In a conference call with the media to address questions about the process, a senior administration official said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a “robust fraud detection system in place.”

“It begins with a clear statement that any individual who engages in fraud will be referred to ICE and be a priority,” the official said. “They could also be subject to criminal prosecution. ... They will submit independently verifiable information, something that USCIS can individually check up on the validity of the document. We will only accept affidavits to prove limited points, and they will have to have multiple sworn affidavits to prove a point. If we see any issue of fraud, they will receive an interview with a fraud adjudicator and a request for additional information.”

Several potential applicants who came to the meeting in downtown Las Vegas said they were nervous about the outcome and feared deportation if their application was denied. Those who are denied cannot reapply.

Blanca Perez, 20, said she had her high school diploma and had been in Las Vegas since she was 6 years old, but she also worked without a legal status after high school.

“It’s great to have these new options open up to me, but I am worried,” Perez said. “There’s nothing I can do but apply and hope for the best. This is my chance.”

Silva, who has never attempted to work, said she believed her case would be relatively straightforward.

“After everything I’ve been through with this issue, I just know I want to give back to the community,” Silva said. “I want to contribute to the country. I want to hopefully open a business one day.”

CORRECTION: This version clarifies the deferred action program does not grant legal residency status to immigrants. | (August 16, 2012)

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