A federal rule change went into effect this month allowing immigrants who arrived in the US as children to stay in the country and work legally for two years. Immigrant advocacy groups are holding workshops all over the state to help people through the application process.
About 70 people fill both sides of a room at Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City. Jessica Carlson is one of the deferred action coordinators for the American Immigration Lawyers Association Utah Chapter.
“People are coming out and very excited. This isn’t even citizenship, this isn’t even permanent. This is 2 years, and they are jumping at the opportunity,” Carlson told KUER.
The new policy defers deportation and grants work authorization to those who entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday, who have been in the country for at least 5 years, and who are currently under 31. Applicants must either be in school, have graduated from high school, or have earned their GED, and must not have a serious criminal record. When President Obama first made his announcement in June, immigrant advocates estimated that about 8500 Utahns could potentially qualify. 18-yr-old Sol Jimenez is one of the organizers, and is applying for deferred action status herself.
“It’s incredible how many people are showing up to these info forums, how many people would benefit,” said Jimenez, “I didn’t know so many people would be impacted.”
Jimenez came here from Mexico when she was 2 years old. She is just starting her freshman year at the University of Utah.
“I can actually get a job now, start living on my own… internships, volunteering opportunities, all those things where you need a social. It’s been opening a lot of doors as far as opportunistic things for my career and college path,” said Jimenez.
But along with the excitement about new opportunities, there is also fear and uncertainty. Attorney Mark Alvarez is leading the information session and fielding questions.
“The big concerns – is it real? I think it is. Immigration has put in place a process to start evaluating people for deferred action,” Alvarez told KUER after completing his presentation, “Some questions about criminal records. Will minor records, juvenile records, affect my possibilities for deferred action? Another - is this a permanent fix? It’s not. It’s recognized in the documentation that this is temporary. This will last for two years, possibly be renewed for another two years, but it’s not a permanent fix.”
Eduard Hernandez is 22 and in the middle of his application process. He came today with a question about how to identify his status. Should he write’illegal’ or ‘no lawful status’? For Hernandez and all the immigrants I spoke with, there is a concern about what will happen down the line, since the policy is not permanent, and whether they may eventually face deportation.
“That’s on everyone’s mind right now, when you’re undocumented,” Hernandez admitted, “But my parents tell me you live an honest life, you try, and don’t get in trouble with the law, and you’ll be good.”
Hernandez says the benefits far outweigh the risks.
“I’m just taking my chances. This is an opportunity, and I’m going to take full advantage of it. If I apply, that’s very good for me. If not, then I will have to make other plans,” he said.
With deferred action status, Hernandez will go to school to be an ER nurse. Without it, he may decide to go back to Mexico to pursue his education there.
But for those who have been in trouble with the law, or who have used an illegal social security number, the decision may not be so clear cut. For them, it may not be worth the risk of exposure. The application asks for your social security number - if any. Mark Alvarez says those people should speak to an attorney.
“That is a headache for almost every immigration attorney I’ve spoken to. We don’t know how to advise people. What we do is lay out the alternatives. Ultimately the person makes the choice,” said Alverez.
Sol Jimenez says it’s a tough call, but she thinks people should take advantage of this opportunity to step out of the shadows.
“It’s worth that risk to actually be able to contribute now, to be actually put yourself out there and be seen and recognized for what you’re doing,” said Jimenez. Just as long as you’re kept in line, you don’t get in trouble, I think it’s a risk worth taking.”
The American Immigration Lawyers Association Utah Chapter and Holy Cross Ministries are offering numerous workshops around the state to answer questions and walk people through the application process. Andrea Smardon, KUER News.