'Deferred action' policy offers hope for illegal immigrants

By Henni Espinosa and Joseph Pimentel, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Aug 16 2012 11:55 AM | Updated as of Aug 16 2012 07:55 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif.– Dozens of undocumented students lined up early Wednesday at the Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County to apply for President Obama’s deferred action policy which would allow them to stay and work in the U.S. with a stay on possible deportation for at least two years.

Robert Yabes, Program Director for the Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, encouraged undocumented Filipino youth to take the chance. But heis saddened that undocumented Filipinos tend to stay mum about their immigration issues.

A security guard looks out of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in New York, August 15, 2012. / REUTERS

"It’s in our culture. Filipinos who have undocumented members of the family don’t want the world to know about their status," said Yabes. "If only they knew the benefits they could get from this, they would seriously think of applying."

An estimated 1.7 million undocumented youth, between the ages of 16 to 30, can apply for the deferred action policy. The policy would also allow them to apply for a driver’s license.

Eligible undocumented students must fill out an application form called the “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or form I-821D.

Currently, the deferred action policy has no appeals process. Advocates said it’s important to gather all documents needed for a successful application. Some of the documents required to prove continuous residency in the U.S. are bank records and school records. They must also submit to a background check and fingerprinting to determine if they have a criminal history. Those with serious offenses are not eligible.

Congressman Mike Honda, who held a press conference for his support of the policy, said America owes these undocumented youth a chance.

“Let the word out. Let the stories be told that these are our dreamers,” said Honda. “There are people of our country, of our future.”

Dreamers Rally

Meantime in Los Angeles, “Dreamers” gathered outside the Federal Building wearing caps and gowns as a symbol, they say, of how far their immigration movement has come.

“We are so proud of these young people who had the courage to stand up and say we deserve a chance at a dream in this country,” said Maria Elena Durazo, current executive secretary–treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “So you did it. You did it. Congratulations to you.”

For 25-year-old Adrian Gonzalez, who arrived here from Mexico at age 3, it’s a new beginning not just for himself but the immigration movement.

“Continuing to fight, continuing the struggle, giving people hope,” said Gonzalez, a current student at California State University, Northridge. “It’s very exciting again because this is the first stepping stone and bringing more and more momentum to the movement.”

The deferred action policy is more than ten years in the making. Since advocates first introduced the federal Dream Act in 2001to the U.S. Senate, the bill has languished over the past decade with threats of filibusters from non-supporters in Congress.

“President Barack Obama made a bold and “historic move” when he announced the deferred action policy”, said Kent Wong director of the UCLA Labor Research and Education. “Though, the deferred action policy is not the Federal Dream Act since there is no pathway to citizenship, it’s a starting point.”

Wong said dreamers have fought hard for this policy but as they celebrate today, they should not forget the others left behind.

“This represents a huge breakthrough for the immigrant rights movement in this country lead by young people and they are not going to go back,” said Wong. “This is only a first step in moving towards the passage of the federal Dream Act and ensuring comprehensive immigration reform to address this horrendous and broken immigration system we have.”