As an Undocumented Youth, Why I'm Skeptical of Obama's Work Visa Program

Though excited when he first heard about the Obama policy that would give work permits to young undocumented immigrants, after a closer read, the author see more drawbacks then advantages to applying.

I woke up on Friday with a bunch of texts and emails in my inbox talking about our big "victory for DREAMER's!" and one that read: "CNN - Deportations of some young immigrants to end!"

As an undocumented person that met all the requirements being stated, I started to get very emotional and immediately happy.

After about a good 10 minutes of daydreaming about what I will do after I get legal residency and not have to worry about living in the shadows, I started thinking about all the actions that the government has done in the past few years to get rid of the same “illegals” they seem to want to help now. I thought of programs like the Secure Communities policy which is making local law enforcement an extension of federal immigration enforcement, and Project Shield, which was the planting of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in police forces around the country. Both programs said that they were trying to help public safety, but were leading to deportations of innocent people, and separating of families.

I started reading the Homeland Security memo regarding “deferred action,” trying my best to look at this as a turn around from the prior enforcement based immigration policies. But as with most governmental documents, the most important aspects of both the possibilities and limitations of the policy were left unsaid.

I found that the policy only gives "discretion" against immigration proceedings, as it reads, "DHS cannot provide any assurance that relief will be granted in all cases." (memorandum page 2 line 11) Working closely with various immigration and criminal cases through the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, discretion is a very good word on paper, but in practice this word is a totally different story. Discretion means you have to trust the authorities to decide whether or not your case is serious enough for deportation, which can be different based on the political standpoint of who is looking at it.

Another thought I had at the time of reading the prerequisites for deferred action is that you cannot have a criminal history. There are a number of good kids that have been in the United States their whole life and for one reason or another have gotten caught up for totally innocent reasons of just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or have been wrongfully arrested, or overly sentenced.

Another part of the memorandum that caught my eye was about the legal limbo people who signed up for it would be in. While reading the memorandum (page 2 line 24.) "ICE should exercise prosecutorial discretion, on an individual basis, for individuals who meet the above criteria by deferring action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, in order to prevent low priority individuals from being removed from the United States." This language states that deferred action is used only as a pause to deportation for a period of two years. If read correctly, one is subject to be deported two years later if the deportee does not meet the assigned criteria that the deferred action program mandates.

A more skeptical view of the policy could be that it is yet another way to get undocumented people accounted for. What if Obama doesn't get re-elected and a more conservative president comes into office and trumps this action? Then the Department of Homeland Security has a whole database of names and addresses of undocumented youth to use to their disposal.

They say work permits will be provided to youth who are accepted and are going to be worked on only on a case by case basis. What is unclear is practical issues such as: How long would applicants wait for the permit? What happens while they are waiting? Is the infrastructure in place to process these applications?

For me, here was the kicker. It reads, "This memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship." (memorandum; Page 3 line 11) This issue really saddens me for the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people thinking the exact opposite. My own parents have come up to me saying, "Mijo, you can get your papers now!" Friends saying, "you're on your way to be legal man, congratulations!"

I wish I could put all my trust in the government and the steps it takes. But until they prove to do their best, like actually giving a pathway to some sort of permanent residency or citizenship, I can't. And at the end of the day, that's why I won't be applying for the deferred action policy.

Is the deferred action plan the beginning of some great new immigration reform? A major step forward for the government's problem of “illegal” immigration? Or is this simply a desperate last action publicity stunt for some extra votes right before the November elections? You be the judge, just be sure to use discretion.

(The author's name has been changed to protect his identity.)

Below is the Deferred Action Memorandum:

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