Certain young illegal immigrants can apply to legally live and work temporarily in the United States starting on Aug. 15. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called the launch of the new policy “a really important day in our nation’s history,” speaking in an Aug. 14 telephone press conference.
“DREAMers can finally come out of the shadows,” said Boxer.
The name DREAMers comes from the DREAM Act legislation, which would have allowed some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children to stay. Congress rejected the bill.
President Barack Obama then directed the Department of Homeland Security to grant deferred action to certain people. Critics said he overstepped his authority, and supporters said enforcement discretion is a long-standing principle.
The new policy means federal authorities will allow the same people who would have been covered by the legislation to apply to temporarily stay and work rather than hide for fear of being deported.
President Obama announced the new policy on June 15. The government has had 60 days to get ready to implement it.
Only people who came to the United States when they were under 16 years old, were under 31 as of June 15, have lived here since 2007, and were here on June 15 can apply.
“When I saw the application on the website I was emotional.”
Lizeth Zorrilla, United We Dream
Applicants must have good moral character, clean records, a GED or high-school diploma, or an honorable discharge from the military, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Deferred action status lasts two years, and does not allow applicants to become citizens or get a green card.
“It’s very narrow, too narrow,” said Boxer. The policy change offers less than the DREAM Act would have. According to Boxer, it shows that comprehensive immigration reform is still urgently needed. She said she hopes Congress will pass immigration reform legislation in the next two years.
She said the Immigration Policy Center estimates that 1.3 million people may be eligible for the program. In California alone, there may be more than 400,000 people, according to Boxer.
Don Lyster, director of the National Immigration Law Center, cautioned applicants to consult a good immigration lawyer before applying for deferred action status. He said the USCIS website lists free and low-cost immigration attorneys on its website.
The thing for applicants to do now is to gather documents, such as school records, immunization records, birth certificates, and other things to support their application.
Lyster and Boxer both warned applicants to beware of scammers and con artists.
A less cautious take on the milestone came from Lizeth Zorrilla of the advocacy group United We Dream. “So excited. When I saw the application on the website I was emotional,” she said.
United We Dream will host clinics around the nation on Aug. 25 to help people prepare to apply, she said. “Many DREAMers I know are just ecstatic to hear this,” said Zorrilla.
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