DREAMers just beginning to file for deferred status
Thousands in line at Navy Pier as Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, take part in a DREAM Relief Day, assisting undocumented students apply for deferred action to stay and study in the United States legally, Wednesday, August 13, 2012 .
Updated: October 7, 2012 7:11AM
CHICAGO — The list of caveats is long, the forms are complicated and the application is pricey, but thousands of undocumented young adults are eager to ease their legal status.
Applying for deferred action status under the Obama Administration’s discretionary enforcement policy carries reward and risk, advocates for immigration reform acknowledge, and sound legal advice is essential.
“Deferred action is a temporary reprieve from deportation,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, legal director of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago.
“This is not a legal status change, but will allow those previously undocumented the opportunity to apply for employment authorization and in Illinois to apply for a drivers license and Social Security number,” Ruiz-Velasco said.
An estimated 15,000 undocumented young adults lined up Aug. 15 at Navy Pier for help with forms on the first day to file, according to the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago.
Among them was Carolina Talavera of Melrose Park, who was 19 months old when her family moved to the U.S. in 1997.
“Growing up, (being undocumented) wasn’t a big deal,” Talavera said. “Now that I’m in high school and getting ready to go to college, its been kind of difficult dealing with that.”
The difficulty is in getting financial aid or a scholarship. Talavera, who attends Proviso Math and Science Academy, has a 3.8 grade point average, is on student council, the class club of 2013 and writes for the school newspaper.
“I want to go to the University of Illinois,” Talavera said. “That’s $30,000 a year. I talked to one of the counselors. He said because you’re undocumented, you don’t qualify for any of the scholarships or public assistance.”
She’s considering Dominican University in River Forest. Dominican offers merit support and some scholarship money earmarked for undocumented students, President Donna Carroll said.
“The young men and women who apply to Domincan, they are second generation undocumented students,” Carroll said. “They’ve had same experiences as most of our students. They’ve gone through elementary and high school in U.S. Very often they’ve excelled. It’s at the point they’re applying to college, they come to understand they are undocumented. ”
Dominican was recently honored by Proyecto de Accion de los Suburbios del Oeste, or the West Suburban Action Project, a nonprofit based in Melrose Park working on the DREAM Act at the state and federal levels. While Executive Director Yesenia Sanchez describes President Obama’s executive order as a “positive step,” it’s only a start.
“We do need the federal DREAM Act that actually addresses the issue and provides a solution,” Sanchez said. “We’re not addressing the issue. We have undocumented youth. They’re going to be the future lawyers, teachers, nurses and public officials. We need legislation so they can work and contribute to this country.”
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act introduced – but not approved – in 2010 proposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents.
Triton College, located in River Grove, has been working to spread the word about the federal changes through its Melrose Park extension office.
Nuevos Horizontes, which is a part of Triton, has served as a stepping-stone for new immigrants and residents in the western suburbs since 1981. Luisa Hernandez, executive director of the organization, said the Dream Act provides an opportunity for citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but the organization is trying to get them to the next level, especially those who have completed high school or received their GED.
“One of the issues about the DREAM Act is that the student do not receive any financial aid,” she said. “The DREAM Act only guarantees them in-state tuition.”
She said there is a lot of excitement among the Latino community to take advantage of this opportunity.
“A lot of excitement among the youth who finally will be able to go to school, but then again, no financial aid,” she said. “What we are seeing within the last couple of months are people trying to get their GED. There’s been a big demand.”
Triton Colleges offers free preparation for the GED test and the number of GED graduates has doubled compared to last year.
Though the deferred status policy offers the hope of temporary benefits, it also poses risks. Applicants who are rejected also risk deportation, so it’s essential to secure good legal advice, experts warn.
Ruiz-Velasco said the center is seeking additional attorneys and other volunteers to guide applicants, and training will be provided. The center also will hold workshops at a second office in Gurnee and intends to partner with community groups throughout the suburbs to meet the demand for help.
Staff Writers Mark Lawton and David Pollard contributed to this report