BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer jbarrientos @bakersfield.com
About 15 people listened closely Monday night to United Farm Workers Foundation representative Richard Gorman give new details about a new federal policy that grants protection against deportation for some young people who came to the county illegally long ago.
Some of 15 attending the information session at Believers in Jesus Christ Church said they prayed that either they or their kids qualified for the policy. Thousands of other illegal immigrants in Kern County have been waiting since last month -- when President Barack Obama announced his "deferred action" order -- for details on how to apply, and if they qualify.
Individuals who meet the following U.S. Department of Homeland Security criteria will be considered for "deferred action," which protects them against deportation. Those accepted can seek a work permit, driver's license or Social Security number. They must:
* Have arrived in the United States before age 16;
* Have lived in the United States for at least five years before June 15, 2012, and were in the country on June 15, 2012;
* Be enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a general education diploma or been honorably discharged from the U.S. military;
* Have not been convicted of a felony, a "significant misdemeanor offense," three or more "non-significant misdemeanors," or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
* Have been 30 years old or younger on June 15, 2012.
* Pay $465 to apply, for work permit and to undergo a required background check.
* Apply starting Aug. 15.
Source: American Immigration Lawyers Association
APPLYING FOR DEFERRED ACTION
United Farm Workers Foundation is hosting at least three sessions to help eligible applicants apply. RSVP by calling 877-881-8281.
* Aug. 18: At 6 p.m. Believers in Jesus Christ, 600 Planz Road.
* Aug. 25: At 10 a.m., Bakersfield Hispanic Church, 3200 Bernard St.
* Aug. 31: By appointment only, UFW Foundation, 220 18th St.
New details released Friday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security -- just 12 days before applications are scheduled to be made available -- revealed the cost to apply and the types of documents federal officials are looking for from applicants, showing proof of time in this country.
Certain young people who came to the United States illegally when they were younger than 16, have been here for more than five years and maintained a clean record, can seek protection against deportation. It gives them a chance continue their education, seek a work permit and even obtain a driver's license without fear.
"If you qualify, the government does not have an interest in deporting you," Gorman told them during a presentation in Spanish. The order won't grant legal residency or citizenship.
Opponents of the order say it rewards people who broke the law and will encourage even more illegal immigration. And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he'd enact a long-term solution to replace and supersede Obama's measure if elected.
But for parents Claudia Mejia and Angelica Ontiveros, who attended Monday's information session, the policy yields hope that their teenage children can go to college and work here legally. The two parents aren't young enough to qualify, but they don't care about that, they said.
"This isn't for us," Ontiveros said. "It's for the future of our kids."
More than 14,000 Kern County-area immigrants 15 to 30 years old who were brought to the country illegally when they were children could immediately qualify for two-year, renewable work permits and protection, according to recent estimates by the Immigration Policy Center, an advocacy and research group. Another 6,000 are children younger than 15 who could benefit when they grow older.
The 20,000 live in current Congressional Districts 20 and 22, and more than 90 percent of them originate from Mexico, according to the center. About 3 percent of them are of Asian decent.
The 20th District includes all of Kings County, and parts of Fresno and Kern counties -- Arvin, Delano, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco and Bakersfield. The 22nd District covers most of San Luis Obispo County, northeastern Los Angeles County, and most of Kern -- Bakersfield, California City, Frazier Park, Kernville, Lake Isabella, Ridgecrest, Taft and Tehachapi.
In all, about 1.4 million immigrants in the United States may meet the requirements of initiative, either now or when they are older, according to policy center estimates. Many of them are so-called DREAMers -- named after the federal DREAM Act aimed at granting permanent residency status to illegal immigrant students in good academic standing. That act has been argued over for more than a decade.
Local education officials and immigration lawyers have been recommending eligible immigrants to gather proof of how long they've been in the country -- school transcripts, court and military records -- and to beware of notaries and others around town who have promised to assist with the application process at a cost of thousands of dollars.
The federal government announced Friday that it would not use applicants' information to deport them unless they lie on the forms, have committed certain crimes or are determined to be a national security threat. It will cost $465 to apply for the work permits and undergo a required background check.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials said the policy will be paid for by the applicants, not by taxpayers. In limited cases -- for foster kids, the disabled or the homeless, for example -- will the cost be waived.
For 26-year-old Cal State Bakersfield student Paola Fernandez, whom The Californian featured recently as someone waiting to hear more details about deferred action, she was satisfied with Friday's news, she said.
Fernandez was wary that applying would potentially reveal her family members as undocumented, but she's worried no more, she said. She's happy to hear that those who apply won't have to pay an arm and a leg, and those approved will be able to travel under certain conditions.
For families struggling financially, she said: "If ever there was a time to sacrifice finances, it's now."
"(The news) to me was very key," said Fernandez, who moved to the United States from Mexico City when she was 4. "I think it's all doable."