“What do we want, do we really, really want?” chanted dozens of young immigrants gathered in front of the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services office in Long Island City on Wednesday, the first day to apply for temporary safety from deportation.
“The DREAM Act, the DREAM Act,” was the resounding answer.
After years of trying, on the part of some, Congress has not passed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would grant deportation deferral and temporary workers permits. The act failed in 2009 and was reintroduced in 2011, but no legislative action has been taken since then.
Then on June 15, President Obama took the issue into his own hands and issued a policy directive stating almost identical qualifications and two-year deportation deferrals. Some Republican politicians nationwide, even some who would support the change legislatively, are calling the policy directive a ploy to grab the Latino vote in the upcoming presidential election.
“Thanks to Obama, I will be able to stay in the United States and have a Social Security number,” said Antonio Alcarcon, a LaGuardia Community College student studying journalism who applied for the deferral on Aug. 15.
Another undocumented immigrant applying on Wednesday was Juan Fernadois, 30, who was brought to New York from Chile when he was 13 years old. He graduated from Flushing High School and works a construction job to help pay for his mother’s chemotherapy.
“This is a dream come true,” Fernadois said. “We shouldn’t be afraid. As long as you haven’t committed a crime you should apply.”
About 1.5 million young undocumented immigrants nationwide qualify for deferred action, according to Queens Congregations United for Action, including approximately 55,000 in New York.
Although a major step toward granting immigrants legal status, spokespeople for Make the Road New York said supporters need to continue to fight for rights for all immigrants.
“We need comprehensive reform so our parents and grandparents can be here legally,” said Katherine Debaris, who is not eligible because she moved to the United States from Colombia two years ago — less than the required five years.
Undocumented immigrants are eligible for conditional permanent residency if they have the documents to show they have a clean record, graduated from high school, arrived in the United States before they were 16 years old and have lived here for at least five years. They must also must have been under the age of 31 before June 15, when Obama issued the directive.
Applicants must either be in school, have graduated from school, have a GED certificate or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military.
No tax dollars will be used to accommodate the huge amount of applicants, but instead a mandatory $465 application fee should cover the costs.
Make the Road New York will be offering free or low-cost legal services to assist with the paperwork. The organization will have drop-in office hours from 2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.