Last week’s change in U.S. immigration policy will provide many young immigrants, often called “DREAMers”, with a way to gain protection from deportation and a chance to improve their lives. We were at the annual meeting of the American Immigration Lawyers Association when the announcement was made, and the excitement and happiness were amazing. We spent much of the rest of the day receiving training on what the new announcement means, how it will be implemented, and how we can better help our clients who may be eligible. Of course, with any new major policy, it is very important to have good information about what it really means and how it could affect you. Experience has shown that if immigration lawyers don’t get the good information out quickly, other people may spread bad information and take advantage of people’s hopes and dreams.
1. What Does the Announcement Do?
The new policy allows certain people to apply for “deferred action.” A person in “deferred action” does not have citizenship or legal residence, but will not be deported while he or she holds that designation. Persons in “deferred action” can also apply for work authorization, and can apply to renew that work authorization as long as they hold the status. For those who qualify, “deferred action” is granted for a two-year period, but can be renewed. In practice, this policy will allow hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to go to college, work legally at jobs, obtain social security numbers and driver licenses, conduct banking and financial transactions, and live their lives in this country free from fear of deportation.
2. What Does the Announcement NOT Do?
The new policy is NOT the same as the proposed “DREAM Act”. It does not provide a path to citizenship or legal resident status, legal status, or any kind of permanent protection. It is merely a way to qualify for a designation that will prevent deportation and allow work permission. In this way, it is similar to temporary protected status (TPS), which many immigrants have had for years. Of course, since “deferred action” can be renewed, it may turn out that this policy protects people for many years to come.
3. Who May Qualify?
The new policy does not apply to everyone. Basic qualifications are:
• No more than 30 years old
• Entered the United States before age 16
• Continuously resided in the United States for at least 5 years before June 15, 2012
• Present in the United States on June 15, 2012
• Currently in school, graduated from school, or have a GED, or be an honorably discharged military veteran
• No disqualifying criminal record (see below)
The policy also applies to people in deportation proceedings. Even people who have final orders of removal are eligible to request “deferred action” status.
4. Who Does Not Qualify?
• People over the age of 30
• People who came to the United States after age 16
• People who do not have 5 years continuous residence in the United States before June 15, 2012
• People who were not in the United States on June 15, 2012
• People who do not have the required education or military service
• People who have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors (except in certain circumstances)
5. What Should You Do Next?
If you think you may qualify for “deferred action” under the new DREAM policy, contact a qualified immigration attorney for advice. The attorney can help determine whether you qualify, advise you about what you will need to prove your eligibility, and represent you in the application process. He or she can also analyze your case to determine if you have any path to more permanent status, or if you have other options if it turns out you do not qualify. Every case is different, and sometimes people who do not qualify today may be able to qualify in the future. If you already have an immigration attorney, contact your attorney to see how this new policy may affect your case.
Do NOT trust your case to a “notario” or other unqualified person. Your immigration case, and your future in the United States, are too important to take that chance. Don’t let bad advice from an unqualified person steal your dream. Instead, if you are qualified, seize this opportunity to help make your dream of a better life in the U.S. a reality.
At Southern Star Immigration, we are proud to consider ourselves DREAM attorneys and stand ready to help you with this new process. We have offices in Fort Walton Beach, Pensacola and Panama City, Florida, as well as Enterprise, Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee. With offices in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee, we can assist “DREAMers” throughout the southeast and we look forward to being your DREAM lawyer.