Young undocumented immigrants must apply for “deferred action”

Beginning this month, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children will have an application process for the deportation exemption that President Obama announced in June.

The surprise policy shift that was celebrated by many young immigrants provides temporary protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants who are between the ages of 16 and 30, have graduated from high school or served in the military, and have not committed any felonies or serious misdemeanors.

Beginning on August 15, those who are eligible will be able to download the application form from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to apply for a two year “deferred action” status. The application must be mailed along with a separate application for work authorization.

The logic behind Obama’s policy of “prosecutorial discretion” is that it will allow immigration enforcement officials to focus resources on finding those who have committed a crime, rather than deporting young people who actively participate in society and in many cases were brought to this country as very young children.

With an estimated 800,000 people potentially eligible, USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas said the wait time for approval will depend on the volume of applications they receive, although he warned that it “could take months.”

The application is free, but it costs $465 to pay for the work permit and the applicants' fingerprint processing. The charge allows the program to function on the fees it collects without drawing on taxpayer money. There will be no option for waiving the fee, and exemptions will be granted only in rare circumstances.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said in an interview that there are still many questions that remain unanswered. Even though Obama’s announcement in June was well-received by most Hispanic communities, Vargas pointed out that reform could have come much earlier in the administration.

“This underscores the need for congress to have a permanent fix for immigration issues,” Vargas said. “This is just a two-year relief from deportation and the opportunity to work. There’s still no path to citizenship.”

He also pointed out that those who are eligible have a small window to apply, because this policy could change early next year regardless of the outcome of the presidential election. A Romney administration could decide on a different approach to immigration reform or a second Obama administration could feel emboldened to enact a more permanent, comprehensive reform.

Critics were quick to pounce on Obama’s announcement as a short-term fix to a problem that needs real reform, but few politicians were willing to say that it should be revoked and risk alienating an important voting bloc in many swing states, including Florida. Some commentators dismissed the policy as an obvious ploy to win the Hispanic vote.

Immigration advocates emphasize the need to get accurate information out to the community, so that people understand who is eligible and avoid scams. Any applications that are submitted before August 15 will be rejected.

The application will be available at www.uscis.gov.

Advice on avoiding immigration scams can be found here.