For years, advocates of smart immigration policies have called on Congress to implement the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) for young immigrants who are dedicated to becoming Americans. Although Congress has yet to pass the DREAM Act, the Obama Administration has finally announced implementation of a new immigration policy that will defer deportation of low priority immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.
When Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the deferred action process back in June, she noted that removal relief would be open to certain young people who:
- Were brought to the U.S. as young children;
- Do not present a risk to public safety or national security; and
- Meet other specific criteria regarding age, duration of residency, educational or military experience, and lack of a criminal record
Secretary Napolitano stated that individuals who provide verifiable documentation of meeting these criteria will be considered for relief from removal from the U.S. or from being subjected to removal proceedings.
DHS has just announced that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept requests for deferred action beginning August 15, 2012. USCIS will provide detailed instructions, appropriate forms and other information about the process as it is implemented, but an immigration attorney can help an applicant to start assembling an application as soon as possible.
The specific criteria that must be met by deferred action applicants include the following:
- Applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16
- They must have entered the U.S. without inspection (EWI) or their lawful immigration status had expired as of June 15, 2012
- They must be living in the U.S. and able to prove continuous U.S. residence for the five years prior to the June 15, 2012, announcement of the program
- They must be currently in school, be a high school graduate, have a general education development (GED) certificate, or have an honorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard
- They cannot have convictions for a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense or three or more insignificant misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a national security or public safety risk
- Applicants must have been under 31 years old on June 15, 2012
Individuals who are already in removal proceedings with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) but have been identified as meeting these eligibility criteria are being offered deferred action for a period of two years. Grants of deferred action will be eligible for renewal.
DHS advises individuals to beware of immigration scams. USCIS provides information via its website to help applicants avoid unauthorized practitioners of immigration law and help them find accredited legal services.
Applicants who may have questions about deportation, including issues about criminal activity, petitions for review and appeals of immigration decisions, can discuss their concerns with an immigration lawyer. The deferred action program is one of the most significant developments in immigration policy in years. However, aspiring immigrants who are not eligible may have other options for remaining in the U.S. on work visas, via asylum petitions, or through a host of other business and family immigration policies.