By Claire Harlin
President Obama made a landmark announcement last month to grant deferred action to thousands of undocumented immigrants, and more than 100 locals packed the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church chapel on July 21 to find out how this change of policy affects them.
Immigration attorney Tammy Sumontha, who volunteers for a number of nonprofits, gave a presentation about how to apply for deferred action status, as well as how to avoid prevalent fraud and scams associated with the application process. She said that the application will not be made available through the federal government until Aug. 15, and any legal or notary organization or individual advertising (usually via Craigslist) that they can submit an application before that date is likely a scammer.
“Don’t go to a notario,” said Sumontha. “If you don’t qualify for deferred action, you could end up on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) radar. Or worse, they could take your money and do nothing.”
The DHS action is geared toward young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States under the age of 16 and have been here for at least five years. They also have to be in school or have a degree, or be a military veteran. Requirements also include being under the age of 30 and not having a criminal record. Federal officials have stated that the policy change is meant to help DHS focus its resources on criminal threats.
The deferred action status will be renewable in two-year increments, and will allow immigrants to seek work authorization (such as a driver’s license or Social Security number) to hold jobs legally in the United States.
Sumontha said the measure is not an executive order, meaning it was not ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama.
“Nothing about this will change if Obama is not in power, or a new president is elected,” she said. “This is a memorandum released by DHS, not the president.”
Those eligible to apply include those who already have pending deportation proceedings. Under the order, DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been instructed to use prosecutorial discretion when encountering people who show proof of their status.
Sumontha said even though the application is not yet available, those who wish to apply should start gathering necessary documents now. This includes proof of residency, schooling and criminal records. She said it is not yet known exactly what documents the federal application will require.
She suggested getting an immigration attorney, and those who can’t afford an attorney can contact organizations that utilize pro bono lawyers. Reputable organizations include the Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrations Services (www.uurise.org), Catholic Charities (www.ccdsd.org), and Casa Cornelia (www.casacornelia.org).
She also said to report any scams to the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium by calling (760) 239-7959. More information is available at www.immigrantsandiego.org or www.uscis.gov.