Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 26
Keep on DREAMin' on
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
On Aug. 28, approximately 500 local residents and families gathered at the Allan Hancock College Marian Theater for a “deferred action” workshop with U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara).
Capps, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service officials (USCIS), and representatives from local nonprofits attended to help students and families navigate the deferred action application process.
USCIS announced early in the summer it would stop deporting law-abiding, undocumented young adults who were brought to the country as children, and begin granting them work permits.
In June, the Obama Administration and the Department of Homeland Security announced the deferred action policy for young adult aliens.
According to Capps’ press secretary Ashley Schapitl, individuals who meet the requirements are eligible for renewable deferred action under this new policy. This means they’re allowed to remain in the United States for up to two years to apply for work permits.
To be eligible for deferred action status, individuals had to come to the United States when they were younger than 16. They must have lived in this country for at least five years, have completed high school, and be enrolled in college, and/or be honorably discharged veterans of the Armed Forces.
In addition, individuals can’t have a felony offense on record or be older than 30.
In 2010, there was a glimmer of hope for citizenship for immigrants with the creation of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The legislation would ultimately pave the way for a path to citizenship for undocumented young adults who either complete two years of college or serve in the military.
The House passed the DREAM Act in 2010 with a 216-198 vote. However, the bill didn’t fare as well in the Senate, and fell short of the 60 votes needed to carry on.
Schapitl said the DREAM Act had no chance of passing in a Republican-controlled House in 2011, so the Obama Administration developed the deferred action policy.
“The decision made by the Department of Homeland Security is incredibly important for the Santa Maria community,” Schapitl said. “It’s ending the fear of deportation for thousands of young people and giving them a chance to work and contribute their talents to our community.”
According to estimates from the Immigration Policy Center, 298,030 young adults ages 15 to 30 in California would benefit from deferred action status. There are 7,180 people within the 23rd Congressional District who would immediately benefit from the policy. With these numbers in mind, Capps was prompted to be host to a workshop in Santa Maria.
“She knows how significant this policy is for so many families in Santa Maria and wanted to help families navigate the application process,” Schapitl said.
According to Schapitl, the application is long and tedious, and can be confusing for individuals who don’t know what they’re doing. Schapitl also said that if a person’s application is rejected, there’s no appeal process.
“It’s very important that it’s filled out correctly and completely,” she said.
Families and students spent time at the workshop learning what forms and supporting documents are needed along with the application, and were guided to nonprofit organizations offering free assistance with the application process.
There have also been issues with people being charged large fees to have their applications completed by an outside party. Schapitl said that with the information provided at the workshop, people should feel comfortable completing the application on their own.
Students from the Hancock DREAM Club, including club president Ulises Serrano, also attended the workshop. A 20-year-old student and resident of Guadalupe, Serrano has been spearheading the club for more than a year. The club is in charge of fundraising to help students pay for school.
“The Deferred Action Policy is interesting,” Serrano said, “but it does offer them protection from deportation. That in itself allows them to live with some relief from having to worry about such an action.”
DREAM Club member and student Israel M. Ramirez was 9 years old when he first came to the United States.
“My parents came here first and then sent for me, my brothers, and the rest of my family,” he said.
Like many immigrants, Ramirez’s family came here looking for a better life and bigger opportunities.
“My parents are field workers and they don’t want that life for their kids, so they brought us here for more opportunities,” he said.
Ramirez is majoring in English and plans to transfer to Fresno State University at the end of this year, where he will pursue a career in teaching. For Ramirez, deferred action status will allow his brothers and him to continue pursuing their dreams.
“This means a lot; we’ll get more financial support and won’t have to live in fear. It relieves me from a lot of pressure,” Ramirez said.