USAfrica LEGAL Insight:
Obama, immigration and the DREAM Act
By Attorney Ijeoma Ihuaku Opara
On June 15, 2012, the Obama Administration took the initiative to provide temporary relief from removal and work authorization to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States before age sixteen (16) and who are currently thirty (30) years of age or under. The policy does not confer immigration status or pathway to citizenship to these classes of immigrants but it is a temporary relief from removal and it is called “deferred action.”
The policy was put in place to prevent the removal of productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or may not speak or understand the languages when they have lived most of their lives in the United States. These young people are victims of the circumstance because they had nothing to do with their unlawful presence in the United States except that they were brought here by their parents.
Some people have viewed the Obama policy as providing some of the relief sought under the DREAM ACT introduced in 2001 which offered undocumented immigrants, who came into the U.S. when they were children, a pathway to citizenship by earning a college degree or serving in the military. It should be noted however, that the DREAM ACT has not been passed by Congress. One may opine that this is a temporary fix while Congress chews on the actual DREAM ACT and Immigration Reform.
What does deferred action mean?
It means that the Department of Homeland Security will not place a foreign national in removal proceedings or execute a removal order against the foreign national if the person qualifies under the this policy. Even persons who are already in removal proceeding may still benefit from this policy provided they meet the key criteria, in which case, they would be qualified to have their removal proceeding terminated.
Who is eligible for the Obama Policy?
Any individual who does not present a risk to national security or public safety and meet the key criteria set out below may apply for deferred action, including work authorization, for a period of two years, subject to renewal. Applications for deferred action would be reviewed on a case by case basis. The following criteria must be present for deferred Action:
• The person came into the United States when under the age of sixteen;
• has continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of the announcement ( June 15, 2012) and are present in the United States on the date of this announcement;
• is currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate (GED), or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
• has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
• is not above the age of thirty one.
Even persons who are already in removal proceeding, who came into the United States illegally, or who were previously deported but never left the United States may still benefit from this policy provided they meet the key criteria set above.
What proof is required?
Verifiable documented evidence is required to show that you qualify for deferred action under the Obama policy. If you believe you meet the above criteria, consultant an attorney to help you put together the required documentary evidence and in properly filing the correct set of form in a manner that would persuade USCIS to grant you a deferred Action.
The Obama policy is an executive order and is not a pathway to citizenship but it is a relief from removal. Given that this is an election year, individuals meeting the above criteria are advised to take advantage of the above policy. This policy does not settle the issues raised by the DREAM ACT, therefore, there is still need for the legislature to act on the DREAM ACT and to make comprehensive immigration reform.
•Dr. (Mrs.) Opara, a contributing columnist on legal issues for USAfrica and CLASSmagazine, practices law in Houston, Texas.