Deferred action--what does it mean for you?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Photo credit: The Daily Beast
By Mina Itabashi

Starting yesterday, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is accepting applications for I-821D: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This is President Obama's band-aid response to a broken immigration system, strategically announced just before the elections. He's promising that he will give two-year work permits that will halt deportations of undocumented youth (between 14-30 years old) who arrived to the US before the age of 16, who have no criminal record, and who are able to pay an application fee of $465. And they have to be in school, have a high school diploma or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forced (yes, US militarization continues...)

The benefit of this policy is that those who are granted "deferred action" are given a two-year Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to work in the US, which also means that they can get a Social Security Card. For most states, these 2 documents are sufficient to get a driver's license and a state ID. Arizona is a huge exception, as Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order yesterday barring deferred action recipients from accessing "any taxpayer-funded public benefits and state identification, including a driver’s license." (Seriously, Jan Brewer?) In less hateful states, deferred action recipients may also be able to get access to in-state tuition and Medicare, but this depends on each state. HOWEVER, the big difference between DACA and the DREAM Act is that "deferred action" is NOT a pathway to permanent residence or US citizenship. (For more details, visit Immigration Policy Center's Guide)

On top of that, there are a couple of other flaws in the DACA. Firstly, it is only an executive policy, and not a law. This means that it can technically be reversed at any time. Furthermore, the "deferred action" status is granted on a case-by-case basis, and those who are denied the status cannot appeal the decision. DreamActivist writes that there is "No risk to anyone applying who does not commit fraud or misrepresentation and does not have a significant criminal history," and that "USCIS has stated that individuals who apply and fail to prove that they qualify for deferred action will only be placed into removal proceedings if they fall into certain enforcement priorities." But even if an applicant doesn't fall into these "certain enforcement priorities," once their data (names, addresses etc) are in the system, they are in the system forever. This could pose a potential threat to undocumented family members of DACA applicants, depending on future political dynamics.

This video by Angy from the New York State Youth Leadership Council addresses some of these fears and doubts:

For those considering applying, there are a lot of resources available to learn more about DACA and evaluate your specific case. On the DreamActivist's Deferred Action page, they have links to information in Spanish, Urdu and Bengali as well. For information in Chinese or Korean, click here. You can find the actual DACA application here.

In the end, it all comes down to the fact that what we eventually need is Comprehensive Immigration Reform, so that undocumented immigrants won't have to be given temporary policies that are really just empty promises. And not to forget that the DACA only applies to a small part of the undocumented immigrant community, categorizing people into "deserving" or "undeserving" immigrants. But even with all my reservations about the DACA, it really is a huge step forward, a victory for those who have fought so hard for immigrant rights and continue to do so. President Obama's decision is really the work of those brave and determined members of our communities who have rallied, marched, organized sit-ins and hunger strikes, got arrested, and continued to protest in jail.

The fight continues. In June 2012, seven undocumented organizers from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance intentionally placed themselves into deportation proceedings in order to enter the Broward Detention Center and investigate whether there are detainees there who are low priority cases or eligible for deferred action. They are currently continuing to organize with detainees, who, according to the the June 17th 2011 memorandum issued by the Obama Administration, should no longer be facing deportation. (Sign their petition to demand that all low-priority detainees immediately be released from Broward.)

Also, undocumented mothers, fathers, students, workers and leaders from all over the country have been traveling from Arizona to North Carolina since July 29th, as part of the "No Papers, No Fear: Ride for Justice" campaign's UndocuBus. They are currently in Memphis, TN, demonstrating that the only way for immigrant communities to be free is to come out, come together, and tell their stories. Just yesterday, some of the riders were on a national call with We Belong Together  (National Domestic Workers Alliance and NAPAWF). One of the riders said that "we firmly believe that the only secure community is an organized one," and I believe it too. We've still got a long way to go before we can see an end to the criminalization of immigrants, but as these examples show, there are tangible things that we can do right now to get closer to immigration justice.

Mina is a summer intern at Forward Together, a proud Japanese American raised all over east and southeast Asia. She embraces her identity as a womyn of color and doesn't believe in borders. They're stupid social constructions.