On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department released more information about a program initiated by President Obama that will allow some young illegal immigrants to stay here, at least temporarily. The program is generating much excitement, says Northwest Immigrant Rights Project executive director Jorge Barón. Yet, he says, "There is some risk."
Obama's program targets basically the same group--which in Washington state numbers up to 30,000 people, according to an estimate by the Migration Policy Institute. But there are some key differences. The president's initiative makes no promises about permanent status; it offers only a two year "deferment" from any deportation effort.
And while the Dream Act would become the law of the land if passed, Obama's program operates entirely according to the president's good graces. Should Obama change his mind--or should he no longer be president after the election--the program could vanish.
Which would leave the immigrants who have filled out applications in a tight spot. "For some people this is going to be the first time that the government knows they're here," says Barón (pictured above).
For most people, that's probably okay, Barón guesses. He speculates that even a Mitt Romney administration wouldn't go after the immigrants who meet the criteria of the program. But what about the people who apply and are ultimately judged non-eligible? The rules made public so far have indicated that immigrants with certain kinds of criminal records, or prior deportation actions taken against them, will not make the cut. But Barón says the criteria is somewhat vague.
DOJ's Friday announcement was not reassuring for those in the gray zone. The feds promised that they wouldn't use applicants' information against them unless they were deemed fit for deportation. It's that "unless" some people will have to think long and hard about.
And even the lucky people who do meet the criteria have to wonder what's going to happen to them in two years, when their pass from immigration enforcement runs out. Yet Barón says he's been talking with lots of young people in the past two months--including a law school graduate, reminiscent of a famous case in California -- and they're not too worried about that.
"Many people have graduated from high school and college and can't work [because of their immigration status]", he says. "I'm worried about right now," he says, summarizing the typical concern. "How do I pay the bills?"
NWIRP, which has created a web page about the program and hired two new staffers to deal with questions, plans to discuss the risks and benefits of applying at a series of workshops held throughout the state, beginning August 21 in Granger.