Work Authorization for Dreamers!

By Robert L. Reeves and Joseph Elias

Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an announcement it is making a major immigration policy change that promises to help approximately 1 million young immigrants known as Dreamers. Effective immediately, DHS will temporarily spare many young illegal immigrants from deportation and grant them work authorization. This relief will be valid for two years and will be subject to renewal under a process known as deferred action.

President Obama addressed the nation shortly after the DHS announcement to explain his administration’s bold direction.  Explaining that that this is the right thing to do, the President said, “It makes no sense to expel talented young people who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans.”

The young people the President is talking about are those who came to the United States under the age of 16 and have continuously lived in the US for at least 5 years prior to June 15, 2012. They must also be under 30-years-old and are either currently in school, graduated from high school, obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States. President Obama and DHS Secretary Napolitano stressed that this is a stop-gap measure for young productive members of society. While it is not an amnesty or immunity, it provides tremendous relief for Dreamers.

President Obama urged Congress to pass the DREAM Act which will grant permanent substantive immigration status to these young people. He reminded Congress that there is still time for it to pass the DREAM Act this year. Until then, his administration will provide deferred action to young immigrants who meet certain criteria for two years at a time. President Obama in imploring Congress to pass the DREAM Act stated, “It is not right for these children to plan their lives in two-year increments.” 

If and when Congress heeds to his plea, Dreamers now have a significant form of relief available to them. Secretary Napolitano announced that the USCIS and ICE will begin implementation of the application process for deferred action within 60 days. To qualify for this form of deferred action the young immigrants must meet the following criteria set forth by Homeland Security:

1.Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;

2.Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the June 15, 2012 of this memorandum 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.

Secretary Napolitano also announced that any individuals now in deportation proceedings who meet the above criteria can expect to immediately receive offers of deferred action. This will be valid for a period of two years, subject to renewal. 

Deferred action will be a tremendous help for young immigrants, but, it is not a cure-all. Deferred action, as the name, suggests is the process of placing deportation proceedings on hold until a later date. The immigration service may always revisit the case and resume deportation proceedings. A grant of deferred action does not provide a path to permanent resident status or citizenship. But, it does buy an immigrant time to allow for a change in circumstances that may lead to permanent resident status or citizenship such as a change in immigration law. An immediate benefit of deferred action is the work authorization that allows immigrants to work anywhere in the US. It allows productive young people to further contribute to our society. It opens new doors of opportunity for Dreamers that were previously firmly shut against them.

Deferred action is not without its risks. It is a policy which means a new presidential administration could rescind it and resume deportation proceedings against those granted deferred action. Therefore, applying for deferred action requires very careful consideration in consultation with knowledgeable immigration attorneys.

Dreamers in deportation proceedings right now should confer with their attorneys to determine eligibility for deferred action. While deferred action is only available to those who do not have a final order of removal, the deferred action door is not necessarily closed to those who have been ordered removed. Depending on the circumstances, Immigration attorneys can work to get those with final orders to have their cases reopened. This in turn could possibly result in eligibility for deferred action.

In the next two months, the Department of Homeland Security will finalize the application procedure allowing those not already in deportation proceedings to apply for deferred action. These two months should not be wasted. Potential beneficiaries and their families should immediately start consulting with immigration experts to determine if and how deferred action will help them.