DREAMers just beginning to file for deferred status
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights estimates three times more undocumented immigrants came to Navy Pier Aug. 15 for help than at similar events in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Baltimore combined. | John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:10AM
CHICAGO — The list of caveats is long, the forms are complicated and the application is pricey, but thousands of undocumented young adults are eager to ease their legal status.
Applying for deferred action status under the Obama Administration’s discretionary enforcement policy carries both reward and risk, advocates for immigration reform acknowledge, and sound legal advice is essential.
“This is not a legal status change, but will allow those previously undocumented the opportunity to apply for employment authorization and in Illinois to apply for a drivers license and Social Security number,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, legal director of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago.
An estimated 15,000 undocumented young adults lined up Aug. 15 at Navy Pier for help with forms on the first day to file, according to the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago.
For residents of Norridge and Harwood Heights, application assistance is as close as the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-5th, at 3742 W. Irving Park Road in Chicago.
“We always have a steady stream of constituent inquiries, and we’re happy to assist anyone with questions about his or her immigration process or other federal issue,” said Aviva Bower, district director for Quigley.
So far, the office has not seen a significant increase in traffic related to the deferred action status, Bowen said.
For those who have sought assistance, Bowen said staff has provided information from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, www.uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals. Call (773) 267-5926 for more information.
The federal program is targeted to help students, those with a high school diploma or equivalent or honorable military discharge. Applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16, lived here for five years, are age 30 or younger, and be without a felony conviction and most misdemeanors.
“Many of our young people have been waiting years and years and have worked incredibly hard to get to this point,” said Fred Tsao, coalition policy director. “Everyone understands the work is not done and this is a stop-gap; what’s really needed is federal legislation like the DREAM Act.”
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act introduced but not approved in 2010 proposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents.
Triton College, located in River Grove, has been working to spread the word about the federal changes through its Melrose Park extension office.
Nuevos Horizontes, which is a part of Triton, has served as a stepping-stone for new immigrants and residents in the western suburbs since 1981. Luisa Hernandez, executive director of the organization, said the Dream Act provides an opportunity for citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but the organization is trying to get them to the next level, especially those who have completed high school or received their GED.
“One of the issues about the DREAM Act is that the student do not receive any financial aid,” she said. “The DREAM Act only guarantees them in-state tuition.”
She said there is a lot of excitement among the Latino community to take advantage of this opportunity.
“A lot of excitement among the youth who finally will be able to go to school, but then again, no financial aid,” she said. “What we are seeing within the last couple of months are people trying to get their GED. There’s been a big demand.”
Triton Colleges offers free preparation for the GED test and the number of GED graduates has doubled compared to last year.
Though the deferred status policy offers the hope of temporary benefits, it also poses risks. Applicants who are rejected also risk deportation, so it’s essential to secure good legal advice, experts warn.
Workshops and free legal resources are listed on the justice center’s website at www.immigrantjustice.org. An online self-assessment to check qualifications for deferred status is at https://dreamerjustice.org.
Staff Writers Cathryn Gran and David Pollard contributed to this report.