Wednesday was the day that the DREAMers have been waiting for. Almost.
Young undocumented immigrants flocked to workshops and rallies around the country, including Miami, when the application for “deferred action for childhood arrivals” became available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services website.
The initiative, announced by President Obama on June 15, has relieved some of the fear of deportation for young people who were brought to the United States illegally before the age of 16, but it falls short of the immigration reform that they’ve been dreaming of. It’s not a path to citizenship, and it’s only good for two years.
Still, at Miami-Dade College, where immigration support groups gathered on Wednesday to share information about the application process, there was a triumphant feeling of having achieved some level of recognition and legitimacy. Wearing black t-shirts with the word “undocumented” on the front and “got papers?” on the back, eloquent students described their love and appreciation for the United States, along with their frustration at living in the shadows, unable to achieve their full potential.
Francis Tume, a 19-year-old optometry student at MDC, described the basic rights he was looking forward to if his application is accepted: getting a driver’s license, applying for a scholarship and working legally for the “right payment.”
Tume, who left his native Peru with his family when he was only 6 and overstayed his tourist visa in Miami, said that he has always been aware of his immigration status, but wasn’t worried about it until his senior year when he realized the “limitations of opportunities” available to someone without legal residency.
Tume is not alone. An estimated 140,000 undocumented immigrants who could be eligible for the deferred action status live in Florida, with about 49,000 in Miami-Dade county alone, according to Jose Luis Marantes, a Miami interfaith organizer who spoke at MDC on Wednesday.
Other estimates vary, but federal immigration authorities expect between 800,000 and 1.7 million people nationwide could meet the requirements.
Applicants must be between the ages of 15 and 31 as of June 15, 2012, and have been brought to the United States before the age of 16. They must be enrolled in or graduated from high school or have served in the military. People who have been convicted of a felony or some misdemeanors are ineligible.
Speaking at a workshop organized by the office of Congressman David Rivera, immigration lawyer Nera Sheffer emphasized the importance of filling out the application completely and correctly since there is no appeal process, and rejected applications will not be refunded the $465 fee that covers the work permit and fingerprinting. She urged people who have any questions about their eligibility to speak with a lawyer or legal advisor, but to be careful of scam artists or notarios who could be offering false information.
One of the young immigrants thumbing through folders of information packets at the congressman’s office was Viky Melendez, an 18-year-old aspiring interior designer who came to Miami from Venezuela when she was 9. Her father was shot and killed by robbers when she was 2, and her mother brought her to the United States to get a good education and to escape the random violence that plagues her home country.
“We always try to find ways to better ourselves,” Melendez said of her undocumented peers. “We still don’t have a permanent answer, but now we have a little more of a chance to succeed.”