By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves, Nancy E. Miller and Joseph I. Elias
The prevalence of media coverage on comprehensive immigration reform ranks high on the President and Congress’s agenda has tempted many immigrants to take a wait-and-see approach on filing for immigration benefits. This is a natural and understandable sentiment. After all, this is the first time in over a decade that any meaningful immigration legislation has a chance of passing. But, by inaction many undocumented immigrants will miss out on important options available to them right now, especially young immigrants.
We were recently asked by a Dreamer client, “Why should I apply for deferred action now when immigration reform is going to pass this year?” This is a fair and common question. Help seems to be right around the corner. And while help may be around the corner, it is not today. Each House of Congress will have to pass a bill. Those bills will have to be reconciled with the other House’s bill. That final bill will be sent to the President for signature. Then the law will be implemented and adjudication started, one year may pass before any benefit is conferred.
Our answer to the client began with, although it is looking very promising for comprehensive immigration reform to pass this year, there is no guarantee it will pass. We remember not too long ago when the Dream Act, co-authored by Senator John McCain appeared to be a sure thing for passage. But, after facing intense political pressure in his home state, Sen. McCain backed away from this immigration bill which would have helped at least 1 million immigrants. His lack of support for the bill is credited as an important factor in the bill fizzling and dying in Congress.
Even if comprehensive immigration reform were to pass in June or July of this year, as projected by many pundits, Congress will most likely place a six-month buffer time period they even act on applications. before it becomes effective. This would be in order to give the immigration service time to ramp up, train personnel, create the application forms, determine evidentiary criteria, and open offices to accept and process the expected 11 to 12 million applications. Six months will barely be enough time to set up for the 11+ million applications. We can therefore expect lengthy backlogs in processing ancillary benefits such as work authorization.
In contrast, young immigrants who qualify for deferred action can obtain work authorization right now. This work authorization is valid for two years. Those who apply now will receive their work authorization well in advance of those who wait to obtain work authorization through comprehensive immigration reform—possibly 1 to 1.5 years earlier. This work authorization will also place qualified immigrants in the labor market much earlier. In addition, this work authorization will allow many qualified immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses as well as professional licenses needed to start their careers. In addition, it appears that those who are working legally will be able to obtain permanent relief ahead of those who are not. Therefore, getting deferred action now could mean getting a green card several years sooner.
So, for the client who asked why he should file now, the answer is because it will allow him to get his life on track now and not later. Then, if and when immigration reform passes with provisions applicable to him, he could apply for those benefits. And, while he waited for those benefits to process, he would not only have work authorization, but, also receive protection from deportation. He may even receive international travel authorization under certain circumstances. None of this is available to him if he waits for comprehensive operation reform before taking action.
Young immigrants qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) if they can meet the following requirements:
1. Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
2. Have continuously resided in the United States from June 15, 2007 and are present in the United States on June 15, 2012;
3. Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
4. Have 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
5. Are not above the age of thirty as of June 15, 2012.
Why file now? Our answer, “Why wait to jump start your life?”