At 7 a.m. Wednesday, only a few were standing in the parking lot of the U.S. mmigration office just off Summer Avenue. None was young illegal immigrants applying for a new Obama administration program allowing them to stay and work for two years. Instead phones were ringing steadily at local community Hispanic centers and law offices who specialize in immigration matters.
For the most part, confusion and misinformation carried the day.
"It is not the Dream Act," said communications coordinator Eben Cathey with the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition in Nashville. "It does not provide a pathway to citizenship. It provides relief from the possibility of deportation and the opportunity to apply for a work permit."
The forms for the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals were just released electronically Tuesday. Once completed, they must be mailed to one of four service centers -- not delivered to the local immigration office. In addition, some local lawyers were still trying to figure out if a driving-under-the-influence conviction would be considered a "serious or significant" misdemeanor that would make an illegal immigrant ineligible. It does -- according to a Homeland Security Department official.
"That DUI is a doozy," said immigration lawyer Kimberly Sutton of Memphis. "That will kick a lot of people out. There is no getting around that."
Said Latino Memphis Director Mauricio Calvo, "We were swamped with questions in text messages or phone calls. We are giving applications out. We had a steady flow of people but no lines."
Over the past several weeks, Priya Patel gathered her middle and high school report cards, academic rewards and certificates, and turned over her paperwork to her Memphis immigration attorney. She came to the U.S.as a 13-year-old from India.
Patel is one of hundreds of local young illegal immigrants who could apply for the new program. While there are estimates that 1.7 million would be eligible nationally, no one knows how many may fit into the narrow definition locally or in Tennessee.
An illegal immigrant must be under 31 who came to the U.S. before his 16th birthday to qualify. They must have lived in the U.S. at least five years and are in school or graduated or served in the military. They can not be convicted of certain crimes or be considered a safety threat.
"I am excited and nervous," Patel said "This opens up a whole new level of possibilities."
At 24, she's earned an associate degree in biology but she couldn't go beyond that. "I want to get a doctorate," she said.
Her life, in some ways, has been in limbo.
"You can't really work. You can't do anything," she said. With a Social Security card, she can find a real job and even gain a driver's license.
Like a number of immigration lawyers, Rehim 'Ray' Babaoglu has been inundated with calls. He fears some "notarios" or "immigration consultants" will take advantage of people.
The program is self-funded. The cost to apply is $465 and includes a background check, fingerprints and photograph.
"By definition, these are people who are not counted," said immigration lawyer Ari Sauer of Memphis. "I have had calls from clients asking, 'Did I miss the deadline?' This is going to be truly life changing for these kids."
Added Sutton, "They are as Americanized as anyone who was born here."
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