News Column

Clinic Helps Undocumented Students With Deferred Action

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Miguel has never told anyone in his hometown of Sand Springs what he discovered as a teenager.

He was brought to the U.S. by his mother at age 8 without legal documents.

"I was in shock when my parents told me," the 19-year-old said. "I thought everything would be the same here as in Mexico in terms of rights. I was kind of mad at them because they are the reason I'm here."

The Tulsa World is withholding his name at his request due to a fear of action by immigration officials, resulting in deportation.

Miguel was among about 60 undocumented immigrants attending a clinic hosted Saturday by DREAM Act Oklahoma at the Faith Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 2801 S. 129th East Ave. DREAM Act Oklahoma is a grass roots group dedicated to working for passage of the federal DREAM Act.

He is in the process of applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program created after President Barack Obama issued a directive June 15 giving relief to a specific group of undocumented youth.

Aspects of the qualifications mirror those contained in the DREAM Act, a decade-old measure pending in Congress. It gives a two-year reprieve from deportation and a chance to get a work permit and Social Security number.

It does not give legal residency or path to citizenship, creating a type of legal limbo.

The Tulsa clinic allowed immigrants to consult with immigration attorneys Rebekah Guthrie and Eddie Irwin on their applications. In addition to the six-page application, immigrants are required to provide a host of other supporting documents.

Miguel has since forgiven his parents, understanding why they risked the trip.

"All they wanted for me is to get a better life and education," he said. "I want to make them proud and worth the effort they went through for me. Mexico was dangerous and violent. A lot of kids get married young and don't finish school. And it's easier to get into drugs and gangs. They brought me here to be safe and educated."

Miguel crossed the border in 2001 from Mexico into Arizona with his mother and older sister to reunite with their father, who was working in Tulsa.

"I was excited because we all wanted to come here for so long and be with him," he said. "He had been gone so long I could not remember what he looked like."

Getting to Tulsa included a lot of walking and vehicle rides arranged by smugglers. He remembers wearing sandals and cactus burrs getting stuck to his bare feet.

He also remembers being held in a room with a group of other immigrants for three days, released only after smugglers received money from their father to complete the journey to an Oklahoma City Walmart.

Speaking no English, Miguel attended a south Tulsa elementary, splitting his days between an English as a Second Language program and traditional school.

Within nine months, he had learned enough English to be mainstreamed into a regular classroom.

"I was scared at first because I didn't know how to communicate with the teachers or students," he said. "At the same time, I was excited to learn two languages and knew I needed English."

He graduated from Charles Page High School in Sand Springs, where he earned B's and C's and played soccer. He also finished a two-year course in drafting at Career Tech, which resulted in several job offers he could not accept due to his legal status.

During his teen years, he wanted to find a job but discovered he had no Social Security number. That's when his parents explained his situation. This pushed him further into isolating himself.

"I was kind of intimidated," he said. "Being Mexican, people make jokes about you being illegal. I told everyone I had a visa, but they made jokes anyway. I felt mad because it was true, but I was afraid to tell them."

His status caught up with him at age 18, the night before his senior prom. He and friends went to a Tulsa club and drank alcohol while there.

When Miguel was in the parking lot, a police officer approached him and arrested him on a misdemeanor complaint for public intoxication. None of his friends were arrested.

"The cop told me when I was arrested that I was going straight back to Mexico," he said. "Another cop said I would not ever get out of jail."

After spending the weekend at the Tulsa County Jail on the public intoxication complaint, he was moved into the unit for immigrants being held by federal officials. He spent nine days there before being released on bond.

The public intoxication count ended with the two-day time served and a $3,000 fine. But he has a March date for immigration court, which he hopes can change with the deferred action program.

An attorney recommended he go forward with the application.

"When the deferred action came out, I was so excited to have this chance," he said. "But that public intoxication is still in my mind and still bothers me."

Of three siblings, two are also applying for deferred action.

"Since we are all Catholic, my mother has been praying to the Mother Mary and the rosary every day," he said. "Because she was left there in Mexico longer, she knows what a bad place it is and doesn't want us to experience that."

Since his arrest, Miguel has stayed on the straight path, attending Tulsa Community College with plans to go to Oklahoma State University.

He pays for it through what he makes roofing and bricklaying, which he learned from his father and brother-in-law.

"I wish I could take a full course load or go to a four-year university," he said. "It's difficult, but I want to show that, even undocumented, we can go to school. I'm motivated by my family and little brother. I want him to see that it's possible to go to college, even as a Dreamer."

Nationally, about 1.76 million youths could be eligible, and between 10,000 and 20,000 of those are in Oklahoma, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The directive has been criticized as a political move during an election year, with some opponents calling it unconstitutional.

On Thursday, a lawsuit was filed in Dallas by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach -- credited for helping craft strict immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama -- on behalf of 10 immigration enforcement officers.

DREAM Act Oklahoma plans to hold another clinic in October and some information forums in the fall, all to be announced later.

Carrissa Zavala-Gomez, president of the group, said her members are aware of the political arguments against it.

"I don't think it matters when someone does something good," she said. "Everything a politician does is to get votes. But when it helps people, I don't think it matters if it's political."

Zavala-Gomez said the biggest issue has been gathering the supporting documents needed for immigration review.

"There is so much weighing on this," she said. "You want to take your time with it."

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Deferred action is a form of prosecutorial discretion. It is a tool prosecutors can use to drop a deportation case, evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Immigrants qualifying have their cases closed but not dismissed. That means their cases could be re-opened for deportation if the immigrant commits a crime or a new immigration violation.

Immigrants whose cases are closed are allowed to remain in the U.S. but are not granted legal status or given a path to residency.

Information in the applications will not be shared with immigration enforcement unless there is a national security concern.

Felony and misdemeanor convictions that would disallow this action include domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful possession or use of a firearm, drug distribution or trafficking and driving under the influence, as well as offenses resulting in more than 90-day jail sentences.

Qualifications:

--Younger than 31 as of June 15.

--Arrived in the U.S. before age 16.

--Resided continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.

--Physically present in the U.S. on June 15 and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action.

--Entered without inspection before June 15 or lawful immigration status expired as of June 15.

--Currently in school, graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school; obtained a GED; or an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. military.

--Not convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Process:

Youths may begin to request consideration for deferred action Aug. 15. If filed before that time, the request will be rejected.

Forms to file will be on the immigration agency's website.

The fee is $465 to file. No fee waivers will be granted.

Once a request is made, an appointment will be made for a review and to begin the series of background checks.

If denied, there is no appeal or review of the case.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Driver's licenses

Under the policy change, states are allowed to decide whether qualifying youth may apply for a driver's license or receive other benefits such as in-state tuition at colleges.

In Oklahoma, the controversial House Bill 1804, which was passed in 2007, requires every person applying for a driver's license to provide proof of citizenship or legal presence, according to Lt. Chris West., spokesman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Being granted deferred prosecution puts an immigrant in legal limbo -- not subject to deportation but not given a path to legal residency or citizenship.

West said a person may seek an Oklahoma driver's license if a document from the immigration service or federal government is provided "stating they have legal presence status."

It is unclear whether documents in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals will be considered sufficient for an Oklahoma license.

In California, officials initially said youths would be eligible for a driver's license. Later, the motor vehicle department backtracked, stating a new policy or legislation may be needed to clarify which types of federal documents are needed to seek a license.

In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer issued an order banning qualifying youth from seeking licenses or receiving any benefits.

The Georgia attorney general stated this week that a qualifying youth is eligible for a temporary driver's license. This affirmed the stance made earlier by the state motor vehicle department.

"While I do not agree with the actions of the President in issuing the directive, it has been implemented by the Department of Homeland Security, (immigration service), and state law recognizes the approval of deferred action status as a basis for issuing a temporary driver's license," Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican, wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

In Texas, a resident who is granted deferred action and has employment authorization documents may apply for a driver's license, which would expire when the employment authorization expires.

Officials in states such as Nebraska have not been clear if deferred action allows for a chance to seek a driver's license, making comments that the states would abide by its existing statutes.

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