DREAMers Applying For Deferred Deportation May Encounter Risks
“It’s a whole new process,” said Josh Stehlik, immigration lawyer at National Immigration Law Center. “There are still some areas that are not totally clear how the immigration office handles the issue."
In order to qualify for deferred action, which offers deportation reprieve for two years, applicants must have been brought to the United States before they turned 16, have attended school or served in the military and have no criminal records. Applicants with three or more misdemeanors will be automatically disqualified.
Yet with new legal terms being created specifically for this executive order, much is puzzling, particularly in figuring out what exactly qualifies as a "misdemeanor."
For instance, the application cites "significant misdemeanors" as domestic violence, sexual abuse, burglary, firearm offense, drug distribution and trafficking. There is also the confusion of the “Wobbler” law in California, where a “Wobbler” offense can be either a felony or misdemeanor, making it unclear whether someone convicted of it is automatically disqualified from applying for deferred action.
Many DREAMers are also concerned that driving without a license or using fake social security numbers in order to work could also be considered misdemeanors.
For 20-year-old Marco Martinez, driving without a license could jeopardize his application even though his livelihood— working as a forklift driver— depends on it. Being undocumented, Martinez said he is only paid minimum wage and is not given time off for holidays.
He said he was caught once for driving without license at a DUI check point, and he showed the police his Mexican driver's license. The police officer started speaking to him in Spanish, which made him angry.
“Why are you speaking to me in Spanish? I know English,” he recalled telling him.
After he was pulled over and the police found out he was an undocumented immigrant, Martinez said they started yelling at him, saying, “You are not a citizen. Get out of here.”
“I was really mad. I am illegal in this country, but I work and try to give back to the country,” Martinez said. “This is my home. I don’t know Mexico as my home.”
When he first found out that he was an illegal immigrant, Martinez was angry at his parents for bringing him to the U.S. and then leaving him undocumented. He said they told him they were coming for vacation, but then the vacation turned into residency. Gradually, he started to understand that life in Mexico was much harder and he had less chance of succeeding.
Martinez mostly keeps his identity to himself. Many of his friends don’t know he is undocumented, including his girlfriend who he has been dating for three months. He said he won’t let her know until the relationship becomes more solid, which might take a year or so, he said.
The first thing he will do if granted deferred action is get a driver's license. He said he isn’t worried about the application.
“If I don’t succeed, I just live up to whatever happens and keep on fighting.”
According to Stehlik, whether or not driving without a license is a significant misdemeanor depends on the sentence and context. But he isn’t sure what may happen to applicants who admit to using an inaccurate social security number or using someone else's social security number.
If the application is denied, there is no appeal process, no reopening, no reconsideration. Cases are reviewed only for limited technical reasons. Despite the risks of being denied, many DREAMers say they are willing to take a leap of faith.
Irving Barajas, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant, said a job is a necessity for him to pay for the increasing college tuition. He said many illegal workers use fake social security cards with numbers that they made up. He worries if the immigration office will hold the information against them when they ask about their annual income. Yet it's a risk he said he has to take. He said at this point of his life, he isn't fearful of what may happen because the success of the application will give him a future.
“This is the only opportunity for students,” Barajas said, “I have been waiting for this my entire life.”
Find more Neon Tommy coverage about the DREAMers and Deferred Deporation here.