The Obama Administration has announced a new immigration enforcement policy that protects young, law-abiding, undocumented immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. as children, from deportation proceedings for two years, and makes them eligible to apply for work authorization.
We’ll take a look at various aspects of this new policy with:
Dulce Matuz, President of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition; Regina Jefferies, Immigration Attorney;
Rudy Espino, ASU Political Science Professor; and opposition to the policy change
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.
Ted Simons: The Obama administration surprised a lot of people Friday with an announced policy to stop deporting certain young illegal immigrants and allow them to apply for work authorization. Here to talk about the policy is Dulce Matos, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a child. She's an ASU engineering graduate, president of the Arizona dream act coalition, and one of "Time" magazine's 100 most influential people. Also joining us is Regina Jefferies, an immigration attorney and a partner in the law firm Thomas and Jefferies. She's vice chair of the Arizona chapter of the American immigration lawyers association. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. Let's talk about exactly what this policy says. Who qualifies?
Dulce Matuz: Well, it was qualified for people that have been living here in America for at least five consecutive years, entered the country before the age of 16, are younger than 30 years old, have good moral character, and ultimately will qualify pretty much for the dream act. Those people brought here by their parents with no fault of their own, pretty much.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about this good moral character stuff. What does that mean?
Regina Jefferies: Essentially the immigration services, department of homeland security, has set forth certain guidelines such as a person can't have been convicted of a serious misdemeanor. A misdemeanor typically is a crime that would be punishable by less than one year in prison, but a serious one would be more serious than something like driving without a license. They also could not have been convicted of three separate misdemeanors that are less than a serious miss demeanor or one felony. Basically one needs a pretty clean record to qualify.
Ted Simons: And I also noticed you can't pose a threat to national security or public safety. What does that mean?
Regina Jefferies: Correct. It's not completely defined within the memo, but essentially what it does mean is that you can't be a gang member, you can't pose a threat to the safety of the U.S. You have to undergo actually certain background checks and security checks as well. So you would have to go through all of that.
Ted Simons: What changed Friday? What's different now than Friday? What were the previous parameters, what's different now?
Dulce Matuz: It's giving you -- it's giving us temporary relief. Which means that we're going to be able to go to school with no fear of being stopped by the police officer, because having a broken taillight, and then you end in deportation proceedings. It gives us security for at least the next two years that we'll be able to continue focusing on school and using our highly educated skills we have acquired in this time. So it's giving us that opportunity of being on the same playing field and being able to compete if we're qualified we'll be able to be the best at what we like.
Ted Simons: You mentioned a broken tail late. If DOLCE is stopped, is there a card you show? What is work authorization, what does it allow or not allow?
Regina Jefferies: Great question. Work authorization essentially is just that, it allows someone to work within the United States for a limited period of time. This instance, if someone is granted deferred action under this program, they'll be allowed to apply for work authorization for a period of two years. Which can be renewed, but the work authorization essentially allows someone to obtain a social security number and under the Arizona state rules, to also obtain a driver's license. So it will allow all of those things.
Ted Simons: And when you go ahead and apply for this particular authorization, do you know where to go? Do you know how the process will proceed, what kind of time frame you have? Are you aware of those things yet or is it still a work in progress?
Dulce Matuz: The administration has 60 days to work out all the details. What we do know is that we have to prove that we have been in the United States for the past 10 years -- Five years, excuse me, and that we were here at the time of the announcement. So June 15th if I'm not mistaken. So we have to collect our records of -- school records, like if we went to the grocery store to get all those tickets back, everything that would prove we were in this nation.
Ted Simons: Interesting. So again, DOLCE has to pile up documentation here. Is in a checklist of, make sure you've got this, or go find that?
Regina Jefferies: I think that as she mentioned, one of the things that's going to be critically important is school records. School records, diplomas, things like that. It's also really important to let people know there is no process yet for people to affirmatively apply for this relief at this point. And it's very important to know that since you cannot apply for it, if you do send an application in at this point it will be rejected by the immigration service. So it's very critical to not also be taken advantage by unscrupulous people who might want to send in applications.
Ted Simons: What happens to those who are qualified but still don't register?
Regina Jefferies: At this point if someone chose not to apply and register as you mentioned, they would essentially be continuing in the same situation as they are currently. And I -- I imagine there are probably individuals who will choose that path. But, yes, so there is no current other way for them to get status.
Ted Simons: If you're not qualified, and you try to register, does it mean you fail to proceed? Or is there some sort of criminal action?
Regina Jefferies: There's no criminal action involved, because this is an administrative process. However, if you apply -- this is based on the FAQs that were released by the department of homeland security. If you apply and you don't qualify, what they will be doing is applying the same program or same guidelines that they apply for putting people into immigration removal proceedings, as they currently do. So if you've got a criminal conviction and that's why you didn't apply, or that you didn't qualify, it's a serious conviction, it's probably something that would be referred over to ICE. So it is really critical to know if you qualify or not.
Ted Simons: Dulce, what have you heard -- are folks anxious to qualify? Are they a little concerned that once they qualify they're in the system, they're not anonymous anymore? Everyone -- there's a two-year deferment so what kind of reaction are you hearing?
Dulce Matuz: For us, it's a moment of celebration. We're certainly very happy and anxious to learn about the process and give -- to get that opportunity. I've been here 12 years, and we -- I've been denied various opportunities, and I still keep going. And it will be an opportunity for to us come out of the shadows and, yes, we don't know what's going to happen after two years, if we get another administration, and then they decide they don't want to follow this memorandum, they can pretty much get rid of it. What we do know is that we're going to continue fighting it for long lasting permanent solution, since we passed legislation at the federal level, so we can assure our children and our youth that they're going to be protected and they're going to be able to have a quality of life.
Ted Simons: So it sounds like you're not hearing much in the way of hesitation from those who qualify to go ahead and register, get in the system and whatever happens two years from now, so be it.
Dulce Matuz: Pretty much, yeah. And in fact, I've been receiving a lot of calls from people getting ready, just waiting so you can give them a checklist and get it ready so they can come forward. That's what we want. We're American in every other way but paperwork, and this is our opportunity to become a step closer to be like fully legal resident.
Ted Simons: What are you hearing as far as reaction, concern -- is there some hesitation to get your name into the system after living in the shadows for so long?
Regina Jefferies: I think it's definitely people need to consider. When you're deciding whether to go forward with the process, this is something that needs to be taken into account. But as Dulce mentioned, the reaction I've had, particularly from people who have come to me, has been overwhelmingly positive and people want to, you know, move on with their lives. But I do also just want to point out that this also did not confer any kind of status on anyone. So although it's a temporary form of relief, you definitely aren't getting legal status.
Ted Simons: It is not the dream act.
Regina Jefferies: No, it is not.
Ted Simons: All right. Great conversation. Good information. Thank you both for joining us.
Both: Thank you.
Dulce Matuz:President, Arizona DREAM Act Coalition; Regina Jefferies:Immigration Attorney;