Illegal immigrants flood Longview law firm for work permit applications
Aug. 15, 2012 at 11 p.m.
Immigration attorney Cliff Jessup was busy Wednesday working on applications for deportation reprieves - the first day young illegal immigrants could apply for a permit to live and work legally in the United States under rules announced a day earlier.
The Jose Sanchez Law Firm in Longview, where Jessup practices, is expecting to help scores of immigrants who were brought to America as children file for a deportation reprieve by the end of 2012 under a new Obama administration policy.
Mirella Olivarez, 18, was one of hundreds of young immigrants in Longview and thousands in the United States who turned in applications Wednesday.
"I have been waiting 10 years to be recognized by the United States," Olivarez said.
The new initiative - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - allows undocumented immigrants ages 15 to 31 to apply for a work permit. Estimates are that more than 1 million young people in the U.S. are eligible.
To be eligible, immigrants must prove they arrived in the United States before they turned 16, have been living here at least five years and are in school or graduated or served in the military. They also cannot have been convicted of certain crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat.
The program represents more of a reprieve than redemption for teens and young adults, many of whom have lived in the United States since childhood.
It does not create a path to citizenship but does defer deportations and permit young undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows. The deportation deferrals last two years and must be renewed.
Olivarez, who came to Longview with her brother 12 years ago, said she went through school in Longview ISD but had no motivation to continue her education because she knew she would be unable to get a job in the United States.
Now she hopes to get back to school and become a nurse.
"I didn't really have a motivation to go to college," Olivarez said. "Now I do."
For many young immigrants like Olivarez, Jessup said, the excitement is heightened by the prospect that a lifetime of frustration may be ending.
"There is a lot of excitement, obviously, but there is a release of a lot of frustration," he said. "They were high school kids, they did all the same things their friends did, but when it was time to get licenses, they couldn't do that. When it was time to get jobs, they couldn't do that."
Jessup said he expected anyone who applied Wednesday to have a final decision on their application by Christmas.
Jessup said members of the Jose Sanchez Law Firm, one of the largest immigration-focused law firms in East Texas, had helped many Longview residents fill out their applications since the announcement of the program.
The firm charges $1,000 for assistance filing the application on top of the government charge of $465 to apply. Identifying documents also are necessary to prove an illegal immigrant's eligibility.
Under guidelines the Obama administration announced Tuesday, proof of identity and eligibility could include a passport or birth certificate, school transcripts, medical and financial records and military service records.
The Department of Human Services said in some instances, multiple sworn affidavits, signed by a third party under penalty of perjury, also could be used. Anyone found to have committed fraud will be referred to federal immigration agents, the department said.
Although an immigrant can access the application from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, the lack of a repeal option and danger of being deported if you are found to have a criminal history encourages immigrants to seek professional assistance, Jessup said.
Obama's announcement of the plan in June immediately became a center of controversy, raising questions about his executive authority.
Republican lawmakers have accused Obama of circumventing Congress with the new program in an effort to boost his political standing and of favoring illegal immigrants over unemployed U.S. citizens.
Some, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, have called the policy backdoor amnesty and said they worry about fraud.
The Migration Policy Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center estimate as many as 1.7 million people could be eligible to stay in the U.S. and legally work under the new policy.
In general, the illegal immigrants who qualify for deferrals would also have been covered by the DREAM Act. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security have said application information will not be shared with enforcement agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which handles deportations.
<em>- The Associated Press contributed to this report.</em>