About 10,000 undocumented students in Stanislaus County, Calif., could qualify for protection against deportation, and a local group hopes to reach them before "scammers" rush in to take their money.
Modesto immigration attorney Solange Altman helped organize the group of volunteers, called Dream Act Deferred, or DAD, which includes El Concilio and the Latino Community Roundtable.
Its mission is to help youth and young adults who may be eligible for "deferred action," a legal reprieve for those brought to the United States as children.
Being accepted would let an undocumented resident seek a work permit, Social Security number, and California identification card or driver's license, said Latino Community Roundtable President Maggie Mejia.
The group estimates that nearly 10 percent of students in neighborhood schools lack legal residency. Mejia said those students will need school documents to apply when the program opens.
"We're inviting all the schools to the table. They're the ones who'll have to put up with the rush of requests," she said. Knowing what's needed will simplify the process for everyone, she said.
President Barack Obama announced the program last month, but specifics are being worked out and requests are not being accepted yet. Advocates warn that premature submissions will be rejected and advise applicants to use the time to gather residency documents for when the window opens, expected by Aug. 15.
But deferred action does not include an avenue to citizenship or any amnesty provision, Altman said. She said reports have surfaced of people being charged $1,000 for services her group hopes to provide for free. In addition, applicants will need to pay what could turn out to be hundreds of dollars in filing fees charged by the government.
"There are people scamming people already -- 'Pay me a thousand bucks, and I'll do this for you,' " Altman said.
She said those who work with the system know how to access and apply for federal fee waivers. "We don't know what the fees are going to be. But we don't want a lack of funds to keep kids from applying," she said.
Much about the program still is being worked out, she said, with daily updates coming out of Washington. The language says applicants could be disqualified by a "significant misdemeanor." But what counts as significant? Such details mean people who expect to qualify may be denied and then be at risk of deportation.
"All this is so new, you don't even know the risks. This isn't amnesty," Altman said. In that program, information from applicants not accepted could not be used against them. This program has no such guarantee, she said.
"We don't want kids going to people who charge way too much money and then don't know what they're doing," Altman said.
DAD plans four information sessions this month and next in Modesto, Ceres and Turlock.
At California State University, Stanislaus, admissions counselor Carolina Alfaro said two student groups she advises plan to offer information to undocumented university students. The Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) and Teatro Los Hijos del Campo hope to get the word out after fall semester begins, she said.
"I know this would be a huge benefit to many of them because they get no financial aid," Alfaro said.
Spokesman David Tonelli said the university does not track the number of undocumented students on campus. Being able to work would help students, he said, but noted that those accepted for the program still would not be eligible for federal student aid.
The group is seeking pro bono help from attorneys, volunteers to help as document reviewers or translators, and donations to cover printing costs and document photos. For more information, contact El Concilio at (209) 523-2860.
Here are criteria laid out by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for "deferred action," which will let some undocumented residents get work permits. Candidates must be:
--Age 30 or younger as of June 15, 2012
--In the United States before age 16
--Here on June 15, 2012 and lived continuously in the United States for at least five years
--In school, a high school graduate, have a General Educational Development certificate or be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. military
--Without felony convictions, multiple or significant misdemeanor convictions, and no threat to national security or public safety
For more information, call El Concilio at (209) 523-2860 or visit http://aila.org/deferredaction or www.uscis.gov.
The Dream Act Deferred committee will hold these information sessions:
--JULY 17: 5-7 p.m. at California State University, Stanislaus, 1 University Circle, Turlock
--JULY 21: 10 a.m.-noon at St. Jude's Catholic Church, 3824 Mitchell Road, Ceres
--JULY 28: 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Modesto Junior College, 435 College Ave.
--AUG. 11: 10 a.m.-noon at St. Stanislaus Parish School, 1416 Maze Blvd. Modesto
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