1 of 3
By Shelby Mack / The Californian
2 of 3
By Shelby Mack / The Californian
3 of 3
By Shelby Mack / The Californian
BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer email@example.com
Paola Fernandez was at first elated to hear President Barack Obama's announcement of a new policy protecting young people who came to the county illegally long ago from deportation.
The order gives her and thousands like her a chance to continue their education, seek a work permit and even obtain a driver's license without fear of being sent back to a country they barely know.
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.
Source: American Immigration Lawyers Association
But a month later, Fernandez, a 26-year-old Cal State Bakersfield student who moved to the United States from Mexico City when she was 4, isn't sure she should really apply.
If I do, would my family members who don't qualify be found out and deported? What happens if Mitt Romney becomes president while my paperwork is still being processed and he invalidates the order?
Fernandez says she and many others are now asking those kinds of questions.
"In the days that followed (the announcement), it was just excitement," Fernandez said. "Now, we're all just waiting to figure out what to do."
Under Obama's order, certain young people who came to the United States illegally when they were younger than 16 and have been here for more than five years and maintained a clean record can seek protection against deportation.
It's controversial. Opponents say it rewards people who broke the law and will encourage even more illegal immigration.
Romney said he'd enact a long-term solution to replace and supersede Obama's measure if elected.
"As president, I won't settle for a stop-gap measure," he said. "I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution. I will prioritize measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier. And I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner."
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is expected to release the details on how young people here illegally can apply for "deferred action" in mid-August.
In anticipation, those affected here and nationwide are calling lawyers and attending informational meetings for advice on how to proceed.
Fernandez qualifies for protection under the order. She grew up in the Weedpatch area, graduated from Arvin High and wants to attend law school after graduating from CSUB in the fall.
But Fernandez does not want to risk putting her parents, who are also in the country illegally, in danger of being deported. Several other eligible students interviewed by The Californian did not want to be identified for fear of deportation.
Fernandez also wants a clearer path to citizenship, though that's not part of Obama's policy.
For now, all eligible students can do is prepare, she said. That's what local education officials and immigration lawyers are recommending.
Local immigration attorney Ronald Carter has heard from two dozen or so eligible immigrants asking for advice. He's told them to gather proof of how long they've been in the country, school transcripts, court records and military records, among other things.
He's also advised them to beware of notaries and others around town who have promised to assist with the application process at a cost of thousands of dollars.
"One of my main concerns is I don't want people getting ripped off," Carter said. "We don't know what documents we need to file. Homeland Security hasn't told us. We don't know any details. So we don't quote prices, and no one should be quoting prices. But this is the time to start collecting documents."
The United Farm Workers Foundation has hosted several forums throughout the Central Valley, including Bakersfield, attended by hundreds of people. Forum leaders covered the basics of Obama's order, what it means and what it doesn't mean, and which groups to trust for help.
"There is still a lot of confusion," said Diana Tellefson Torres, executive director of the UFW Foundation. "We're telling people to be very careful and understand all the implications."
United Now for Immigrant Rights at Cal State Bakersfield also has been educating students about the order as the August date looms. That group has rallied on campus in support of the federal DREAM Act, aimed at granting permanent residency status to illegal immigrant students in good academic standing. The federal act has been argued over for more than a decade.
Obama's executive order gives students hope, said Joey Williams, cofounder of CSUB's United Now. The campus has students with master's degrees who are unable to use them to start careers, and they fear being deported. The order could allow them to obtain work permits.
"With this (order), you're not walking on eggshells or in the shadows anymore," Williams said.
CSUB and CSU system leaders have spoken in favor of both the California and federal DREAM Acts. The recently approved state DREAM Act grants illegal immigrants access to state financial aid at public universities and community colleges.
Last school year, CSUB enrolled 19 undocumented students who submitted paperwork to pay in-state tuition; Bakersfield College had 511 last school year.
More than 800,000 people could benefit from the new Obama policy, according to the White House. Most of them are from Mexico, but Asians also make up a fair portion of illegal immigrant students.
Those against the DREAM Act and other immigration-related measures argue they waste taxpayer money and send the message that violating the law is OK.
For Paola Fernandez, she sees the order as a "step in the right direction," though it's not a permanent path to the citizenship she hungers for. While she waits for details, she also is helping other "dreamers" at CSUB and with the UFW Foundation.
"One of my dreams is to one day vote," Fernandez said. "This is a nice stepping stone."