June 20, 2012
The plight of the young undocumented population in the United States was tremendously aided with the announcement by Pres. Obama on June 15, 2012, of a new policy that will eliminate the fears of a potential deportation and just as importantly the ability to normalize ones life in the United States. After over a decade of fighting for passage of a law to help the young undocumented population, the executive order by Pres. Obama is a huge step toward fixing the problems experienced by innocent youths who have already assimilated and become part of the US culture and society.
The executive order is essentially a progression of the prosecutorial discretion policy that the President announced last summer. As a part of prosecutorial discretion, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had stated last summer that they would not pursue removal proceedings against the majority of individuals who were brought to the US as youths.
The executive order formalizes and extends that prosecutorial discretion policy by now allowing individuals to qualify for a form of relief known as Deferred Action. By allowing an individual the ability to be granted Deferred Action, it provides the legal right to obtain a work permit. With a work permit, an individual can then obtain a social security number and drivers license. Rather than hiding in the shadows and not contributing to the society that has educated them, the new policy now at least assists an individual with establishing a more normal life and the freedom to pursue their dreams.
The following are the criteria for eligibility: 1) Entered US under age 16; 2) Continuously resided in the US from at least 06/15/2007 to 06/15/2012 and physically present in US on 06/15/2012; 3) Currently be in school; have graduated from a US high school; have obtained a GED certificate; or honorably discharged from the US military; 4) Must not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor offense, or 3 or more misdemeanor offenses; 5) Under 31 years old; and 6) Be at least 15 years old if the individual has no final order of removal. To establish the residency requirements, the DHS will consider any credible documents, including but not limited to the following: financial records; medical records; school records; employment records; and military records.
With respect to what constitutes a "significant misdemeanor offense", the DHS states that it includes misdemeanor crimes that involve violence, threats, or assault, including domestic violence; sexual abuse or exploitation; burglary, larceny, or fraud; obstruction of justice or bribery; unlawful flight from arrest, prosecution, or the scene of an accident; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; or drug distribution or trafficking. Also included is driving under the influence (DUI) and unlawful possession of drugs, both of which are crimes that many view as not significant and therefore unwittingly plead guilty thinking it will not harm them.
The DHS now has until August 14, 2012 to implement the policy. This entails determining the procedures for accepting and processing the applications. For now, however, individuals can and should proceed with putting together the documents needed to prove eligibility so that applications can be submitted as soon as the program is in place.
For individuals granted Deferred Action, it will provide them with the assurance that the DHS will not seek to remove them from the US during the 2-year validity period. As indicated, they will also obtain a work permit during the 2-year validity period. It may also provide them with an ability to obtain an advance parole document in order to safely travel in and out of the US; however, this is an issue that is still being determined.
Pres. Obama’s executive order is certainly a bright light in what has been such a struggle for so many. As the Deferred Action benefit does not lead toward permanent residency, however, a tremendous amount of work and advocacy still lays ahead to ensure that the dreams of the innocent youths is not just a temporary one. It is vital that individuals take advantage of this golden opportunity, but not lose sight that a permanent remedy is still needed and that advocacy for it must continue throughout this election year and beyond.