By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
BIRMINGHAM–Wednesday evening, The Immigrant Youth Leadership Initiative of Alabama (IYLIA) held a rally outside a fundraiser for Gov. Mitt Romney.
On August 15, applications for President Obama’s program granting relief to undocumented/illegal citizens were made available as a part of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. While the Act was not passed into law, President Obama, took the unusual measure of implementing parts of the Act through executive order. Participants are referred to as DREAMers.
“This is a national day of action. There are actions going on today in New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, all over the country,” said Victor Palafox, Birmingham, community organizer with the IYLIA and steering committee member with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
Palafox was born in Mexico City but was raised and currently resides in Alabama. He has been actively involved in helping the communities organize throughout the state of Alabama including being an active speaker/protester during the 2012 Legislative Session as well as appearing on the cover of “Time” magazine.
“The fact that [Romney] is coming to Alabama is something personal for us because after a year of suffering under HB56 and now HB658 it is a relief to have something like Deferred Action. On the other hand, you have Mitt Romney saying that he would flat out veto the DREAM act even if it passed both houses of Congress,” said Palafox.
According to Palafox, Romney’s anti-immigration advisor is Kris Kobach who was the primary author of Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Bill HB56.
“If [Romney] is going to come to Alabama we want to let him know that we are going to hold him accountable,” said Palafox. “This isn’t a partisan issue. This isn’t a Republican issue, this isn’t a Democrat issue. This is an issue of who is willing to work with us and to stand with us against this anti-immigrant rhetoric. If a candidate or any political figure is actively working against our communities we have to let them know that.”
He also said that it is also about sending a message to the people inside saying, “If you giving funding from $5 to $25,000 on any given night for Mitt Romney, we want you to know what you are funding and that we are not entirely happy with you investing money in this.”
Afterward IYLIA held a Deferred Action clinic where lawyers were available at First United Methodist Church in Birmingham to have one-on-one consultation with individuals who wished to apply.
On June 15, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, set forth by the Obama Administration to potentially help over a million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States avoid deportation and obtain work authorization. This provides some relief for children born in another country and brought into the United States by their parents.
The policy is a temporary release under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for people between the ages of 15 and 31 but does not provide legal status. Under the program, those accepted would be able to receive a work permit and then a social security number in order to work and pay taxes as long as they can prove “an economic necessity for employment.” This status can be renewed or terminated at the discretion of DHS.
“It would allow certain people to stay and work legally in the United States for two years,” said Palafox.
According to The Immigration Policy Center, approximately 1.4 million immigrants in the United States are expected to meet the 7 guidelines of the deferred action initiative, now or in the future. An estimated 936,930 meet those requirements as of August 15, 2012. Mexican immigrants make up almost 70% of those eligible.
The states with the highest estimates are: California (412,560), Texas (226,700), Florida (85,750), and New York (70,170) are the states with the highest number of expected beneficiaries.
The impact on southern states is estimated at: Georgia (38,500), Tennessee (10,370), Alabama (6,220), Arizona (53,880), South Carolina (7,530), Mississippi (2,040), Louisiana (4,320), Arkansas (6,860).
This is available for all undocumented/illegal immigrants in Alabama, not just Mexican. The reports shows that of Alabama’s estimated 6,220 when categorized by Country/Region of Origin the results will be: Mexico (4,990), Other North and Central America (390), Asia (440), South America (250), Europe (90), and other regions (70).
“Here in Alabama the way that this will work is that HB 56 and HB 658 have passed the State House and obviously this has harmed the immigrant community, documented or not,” said Palafox. “So, as far as the undocumented community goes it would provide a breath of fresh air. E-verify is now in effect, students are banned from public university and this would be an opportunity for us to be productive members of our community here in the state of Alabama.”
Under HB56 and HB658 undocumented students were not allowed to attend state universities. DREAM would allow these students to return to school by providing them a work permit required by the statutes. It is possible that they may also be eligible for in-state tuition.
According to the USCIS website applicants must:
1) Be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012. You must be at least 15 years of age, with some exceptions.*
2) Have come into the U.S. before the age of 16.
3) Have lived in the U.S. permanently since June 15, 2012. Some travel acceptable.*
4) Have been physically in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and when applying for deferred action.
5) Have entered the U.S. without inspection before June 15, 2012 or have had their lawful immigration status expire since then.
6) Be currently enrolled in school at the time of the request. Also eligible are individuals who have graduated from high school, obtained a GED certificate, or are a honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces.
Have not been convicted of a felony, “significant misdemeanor, 3 or more other misdemeanors,” and/or are not seen as a threat to national security or public safety.
Palafox said that they were concerned when the policy was first made available that there would be attempts to defraud communities.
“At first I wasn’t sure whether that would be happening or not. But, as we traveled the state of Alabama giving Deferred Action workshops to immigrant communities we learned that this was a little bit more widespread than we thought. For example, you would have lawyers from Chattanooga, TN, going down to Lineville, to Ashland, trying to get the immigrant community there to pay $5,000, $10,000, or $50,000 for essentially snake oil. Even now we are still getting cases where people are being charged $2,000,” said Palafox. He said that it is a matter of educating communities and providing them with information to seek legitimate advice.
For those wishing to apply forms are available from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) at www.uscis.gov.
According to USCIS, the application consists of:
1) A completed and signed, Form I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival. Forms should include evidence to support that you meet all 7 guidelines of eligibility.
2) Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
3) Form I-765WS, Worksheet (which establishes your economic need for employment)
Filing fees for Form I-765, which total to $465.
All applicants will undergo a background check. Denied applicants will not be placed in removal proceeding but under “exceptional circumstances” may be referred to ICE.
“Now it is just a matter of making sure that people are informed and to make the process as smooth as it possibly can be. So, there will be a lot of following up to do in the immigrant community to see what we are able to do longterm,” said Palafox. “This is temporary. There is nothing guaranteed or set in stone. So, if at any point it is decided that it should be taken away, it can be taken away at any time.”
Palafox said that the main message is to keep fighting. Not only here in Alabama but throughout the rest of the country because “there are people who were left out by a matter of days.” Since there is an age limit to qualify many who have been in the United States under the same circumstances will not qualify for this program.
“There were people who were left out because the returned to their country after years of broken promises and a lack of hope. People who have been fighting in the struggle for over a decade have aged out. They are not going to be able to apply. So this is a temporary relief and we just have to keep fighting,” Palafox concludes.
Palafox and his colleagues plan to continue to travel throughout Alabama holding Deferred Action seminars in communities to further educate individuals on how to legally, properly apply.