Immigration attorneys in Evanston help people navigate deferred action process
Immigration attorney Emily Love at her Evanston offices on Sept. 5. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: October 14, 2012 12:42PM
EVANSTON — It didn’t take long for Evanston immigration attorney Mary O’Leary to start searching her own files after the Obama administration announced last month its deferred-action plan — the so called DREAM Act — offering sanctuary to immigrants already working or going to school in this country.
“I went through as many of my cases as I could and tried to decide: Who do I currently have that could use this?” she said.
Emily Love, another immigration attorney who shares the same office, at 621 Madison in Evanston, said the reaction to the announcement was “huge.”
Heading into the office on a Saturday, a week and a half before the Act went into effect, she saw about eight or nine people that day. Since that time, she’s averaging five to 10 inquiries a week, she 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.
In Illinois, between 75,000 and 100,000 may be eligible for the program, which nationwide could benefit up to 2 million undocumented youths, said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, legal director of the National Immigrant Justice Center The program is targeted to help students, those with a high-school diploma or equivalent, or honorable military discharge. Applicants must have arrived in the United States before age 16, lived here for five years, are age 30 or younger and be without a felony conviction and most misdemeanors.
Three forms are required with a $465 application fee and a list of documents to prove residency over the past five years, including school records, medical receipts, financial records or church documents. If approved, a two-year deferred status is granted, and reapplication must be made, if the program continues.
“Many of our young people have been waiting years and years and have worked incredibly hard to get to this point,” said Fred Tsao, coalition policy director. “Everyone understands the work is not done and this is a stop-gap; what’s really needed is federal legislation like the DREAM Act.”
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act introduced but not approved in 2010 proposes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents.
Though the deferred status policy offers the hope of temporary benefits, it also poses risks.
“It is not a law or even an executive order. There is a risk coming forward and applying, because a policy and a government can change,” Ruiz-Velasco said. “We would hope the government would never take the position to put all of the hundreds of thousands of people who apply into deportation proceedings.”
Applicants who are rejected also risk deportation, so it’s essential to secure good legal advice, experts warn.
In their consultations, Love and O’Leary review the clients eligibility and determine what documents they need to obtain in order to demonstrate their eligibility.
They are careful to outline potential risks, mainly political. Because the program is an Obama Administration initiative, it theoretically could change under another administration.
On the other hand, said Love, based on what the Department of Homeland Security has published about it — unless someone is being investigated for a crime or for fraud on their application, the Department has said that information about those applicants or their family members will not be turned over to enforcement authorities.”
O’Leary has used the new declaration to address another troublesome situation.
Some immigrant may not be eligible for permanent residency, even if married to U.S. citizens.
In the past, once their appeals ran out they then had to go to the U.S. Consulate in their home country to apply for an immigrant visa.
The moment they leave the country they face a 10-bar to reentering.
O’Leary sees “piggybacking” on the new deferred-action act as “taking advantage of the work authorization to help build what is called a positive waiver.”
Both attorneys have been impressed by the young adults who are expressing interest in applying for the play.
“The people are very impressed,” Love stressed. “The people that I am seeing — most of them have graduated high school and I’ve seen several people who have gone on to college, even without (having) a Social Security number.”
In college they put themselves through without assistance, she said.
The countries represented include Mexico, but also some from Europe, South America and Africa.
Some of the immigrants came themselves, some had a parent who “brought them in without inspection,” she said. “But there were also people who came in with visas and overstayed,” she said.