DRAPER — Come Aug. 15, Roman Gonzalez will take a step he hopes will help secure his future. Gonzalez, a recent high school graduate who was brought to the United States from Latin America when he was 11 years old, will begin the process of applying to stay in the country without threat of deportation.
In June, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would create a process to allow children brought into the United States by undocumented parents to apply for "deferred action" on removal or deportation proceedings if they meet certain criteria. One of the newly published requirements is that applicants must be enrolled in school or have graduated from high school.
Gonzalez, 17, recently graduated from Copper Hills High School. If his application is accepted, he won't have to worry about his status while attending Salt Lake Community College, he said.
"Hopefully they can find a way to make it a bigger thing so you don't have to renew it every two years," Gonzalez said.
"Deferred action" is not legal status. It means that federal immigration authorities will defer removal actions as an act of prosecutorial discretion for a two-year period. Applications can be renewed without limit, according to new guidelines released by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"This is a temporary measure," explained Mark Alvarez, a Salt Lake immigration attorney and Spanish radio talk show host.
President Barack Obama made the announcement June 15 and issued an executive order for its implementation. Those implementation plans were announced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Friday.
Deferred action is not a replacement of the Dream Act – the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act which would offer a pathway to education, careers and citizenship. But it offers an estimated 1.4 million people nationwide a chance at school and careers in hopes of a more permanent resolution to immigration issues in the future.
"Deferred action is part of the court process in deportation and removal cases. What is new is applying this so broadly and in a systematic way," Alvarez said.
Utah advocates are urging people who may be eligible to apply to attend free upcoming workshops to learn more about eligibility, costs and necessary documentation.
Total fees for the application are $465 — $85 for a background check and $380 to apply for Employment Authorization Document.
People can apply consideration of deferred action if they:
• Were under age 31 on June 15, 2012;
• Entered the United States before their 16th birthday;
• Resided in the United States continuously since June 15, 2007;
• Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or their lawful immigration status expired on June 15, 2012;
• Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a GED certificate or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard, or Armed Forces of the United States;
• Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
For the full guidelines, go to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' website at www.uscis.gov
The federal agency is already cautioning against scams by people purporting they can expedite the application process. It is likewise spelling out the penalties associated with fraudulent applications.
"There is no expedited processing for deferred action. Dishonest practitioners may promise to provide you with faster services if you provide them a fee. These people are trying to scam you and take your money," the website states.
People who knowingly misrepresent themselves or knowingly fail to disclose information under this process "will be treated as an immigration enforcement priority to the fullest extent permitted by law."
To assist potential applicants, the Utah chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and other public interest groups will sponsor a series of free workshops over the coming months.
The workshops will include an initial screening to determine eligibility. Then, an attorney will discuss the rules and risks of the application process.
For instance, people who have been convicted of felonies, significant misdemeanors or three or more misdemeanors will not be eligible.
“Those who do not clearly meet the eligibility requirements, for example due to their criminal history, will be strongly encouraged to seek out a private attorney, as they will need a more thorough review of their case,” said Chris Keen, chairman of the Utah Chapter of AILA.
The workshop schedule has not been finalized because community organizers are seeking organizations or individuals willing to host the meetings or to volunteer. Any group or person willing to help should contact Jessica Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Esperanza Granados, public policy advocate for ACLU of Utah, said there is no deadline for applications nor is there a limit on the number of people who can apply for deferred action for childhood arrivals.
"It's much more important to submit the application correctly with the appropriate paperwork than trying to file it quickly," Granados said.
Gonzalez, who picks up occasional odd jobs, said he looks forward to the opportunity to apply for deferred action.
"I'm waiting for the 15th to see what they say. Then I'm going to talk to a lawyer to see what I have to do."