Fox Valley churches, organizations help young immigrants with Deferred Action program
By Jenette Sturges ~ firstname.lastname@example.org September 15, 2012 2:48PM
Resettelment directon for World Relief Dupage in Wheaton Andrew Timbie watches over the line of young people and their families waiting to fill out of applications for Deferred Action
6-8 p.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, 325 E. Downer Place
World Relief is looking for 50 to 60 mature volunteers to assist in filing paperwork. Bilingual skills are helpful, but not necessary. For more information, call 630-906-9546.
World Relief Deferred
1-5 p.m. Thursday at First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, 325 E. Downer Place
Services include legal consultation with an immigration attorney and assistance filing paperwork. World Relief will charge $150 per application in addition to federal filing fees. For more information on requirements and documentation, call 630-264-3171.
9 a.m.-noon Saturday, at West Aurora High School, 1201 W. New York St.
For those who may be eligible to apply for full citizenship, the workshop will provide free legal consultation and help completing naturalization applications, plus free study materials for the test and interview.
9 a.m.-noon Oct. 29, at Wesley United Methodist Church, 14 N. May St., Aurora
Immigrant Welcoming Congregations will have experts on hand to discuss immigrants’ rights and the deferred action process. No Deferred Action paperwork will be filed at the event, but organizers will have lists of resources for those considering applying. For more information, go to wicauroraarea.shutterfly.com.
Updated: October 17, 2012 6:14AM
They may call themselves “dreamers,” but for many young people hoping to legally call America home, this is no DREAM Act.
“This option does not allow for legal permanent residency or citizenship,” said Susan Bachmeier, immigration counselor at World Relief Aurora. “There is no jump you can make from undocumented to citizen. That is a misunderstanding. It’s not that way.”
It’s a commonly held misconception, lost among the excitement and flood of paperwork, and one that has potentially wide-reaching effects on thousands of people living in the Fox Valley, who came to the U.S. illegally, or came legally and overstayed their visas, many at an age too young to know what a visa is.
In June, President Obama announced a new Department of Homeland Security policy — dubbed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — that would allow young, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 to apply for a temporary deferred action on any potential immigration proceedings.
Deferred Action is neither a law nor an executive order, but the measure would allow young immigrants — perhaps thousands in the Fox Valley — to stay in the U.S. for two years without fear of deportation, and allow young people to apply for work permits, Social Security cards and driver’s licenses.
Since the June announcement, allies of the Fox Valley immigrant community have been mobilizing to educate and spread the word on the new policy and its implications for young immigrants, renewing their resolve to advocate for immigrant rights.
Red tape and nerves
“I have my kids here, and I want to be something here, and not have to be in hiding,” said Ana Zacatzi, one of the hundreds of young people crowding World Relief’s DuPage offices last month during a workshop offering legal advice and help filing paperwork.
On Thursday, World Relief Aurora will host the third Deferred Action Workshop in the Chicagoland area.
Organizers said they don’t know how many will show up, but if prior workshops are an indication — about 13,000 filled Navy Pier in Chicago for an event, and lines started forming at 3 a.m. in front of World Relief DuPage last month — there will be more applicants than space or time will allow.
“We don’t have a number yet,” said Bachmeier. “We’re going to try to do our best. We want to serve all these people, but it’s first come, first serve.”
Carpentersville resident Antonio, who declined to give his last name, runs a small business, a common way to earn a living for undocumented people who cannot get work permits.
“I want to expand my business, but I have no driver’s license,” Antonio said. “I want to work more, to grow big.”
Antonio’s wife accompanied him as stood in line for five hours at World Relief last month, nervously thumbing through stacks of documents.
“We need evidence of school records, medical records, immunizations, (Department of Human Services) records, financial records, bank statements,” said Bachmeier. “But mostly schools records, report cards or transcripts, and they have to prove physical residence for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, and proof they come before the age of 16.”
Applicants also need to provide biometric data, criminal records and — a major stumbling block for some — photo identification.
The staff of World Relief will train between 50 and 60 volunteers ahead of Thursday’s workshop, to help screen out people who are not eligible, to check documentation, and to fill out forms.
And while those volunteers will help hundreds of people apply for the temporary permits to stay in the U.S., other possibly eligible people will likely stay home.
“There’s a lot of fear,” said Bachmeier. “A lot of people are worried ‘what will the government do with my information?’”
She said the Department of Homeland Security has announced that people who are denied deferred action will not be deported except under special circumstances, typically in cases where the person poses a threat to national security.
Because that policy was set by the current administration, however, it could change come November. That has prompted many advocates to advise young immigrants to wait until after the elections to file any paperwork. So far, the Department of Homeland Security has not set any deadline by which people must file for deferred action.
But there’s another reason many are hesitant to apply — everyone will get just one chance at applying for the temporary deferral.
“There’s only one shot, so we do not to put people at risk. If it’s denied, they will not have the opportunity to apply again,” Bachmeier said.
Still, that’s a risk thousands are willing to take, given what’s at stake.
“I think the highlight I’ve seen here is that this employment card allows you to apply for a Social Security number and a Social Security number allows you to apply for a driver’s license,” said Bachmeier. “Here in suburbia, we cannot rely on public transportation. People right now are arrested for driving their kids to school, for going to school themselves.”
Some states, including Arizona and Nebraska, have said they will deny driver’s licenses to immigrants applying for deferred action. But Illinois will grant driver’s licenses, according to a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, provided that immigrants apply first for Social Security cards and pass the road test.
Bachmeier said work authorization is the other draw for people who are considering applying.
“They want to work,” she said. “They pay taxes and we want them to be here. They are a good element in the community.”
Churches step in
Aurora’s First Presbyterian Church, which is hosting Thursday’s workshop, is one of about a dozen Aurora and Naperville churches that are part of the Immigrant Welcoming Congregations of the Fox Valley.
The churches have joined together with non-profits like Family Focus and World Relief to provide a community welcoming committee of sorts, with educational programs on immigrants’ rights and advice and resources for immigrants thinking of applying for deferred action or citizenship. Members said they have a moral imperative to help the immigrant community.
“Because the Israelites were strangers in Babylonia and Egypt, God called us to be reminded of that and to treat immigrants the way we want to be treated,” said Dianne Herr, of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville. “Jesus said... you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Immigration is one of the areas in our society where people are treated unjustly and need more rights.”
The group also advocates for immigrant issues in the state legislature, and is currently lobbying for the state to offer driver’s licenses to immigrants, regardless of their legal status.
“Safety is a concern when people are driving around without a license,” said Herr. “And in addition it would allow them to have photo ID, enabling them to get something as simple as a library card.”
For now, the Immigrant Welcoming Congregations are focusing on education and resources, including a Sept. 29 education event, for the thousands of young people hoping to stay and build lives in the U.S.
“The one thing people can agree on, regardless of political persuasion, is that the kids brought here when they were so young, too small to make a decision, they really deserve to be able to go to school and move on with their lives,” Herr said.