Why Are Some Undocumenteds Nervous About Obama’s Immigration Reform?

As deferred action program launches, confusion and anxiety reign over who is covered -- and whose status might be put at risk

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A crowd member holds up a "Latinos for Obama" sign during a campaign speech by President Barack Obama at the Palace of Agriculture on the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo on Aug. 9, 2012

One would think that Karla Zapata, an undocumented student from Guatemala, would be ecstatic over the prospect of receiving her first ever work permit. Well, she is. But she’s also wary. After years of living in the shadows, Zapata and her friends aren’t convinced it’s a good idea to give their personal information to the government when there are no guarantees that President Obama’s new program for young immigrants will last and no promise they’ll even be accepted into it. Some see that ambiguity as an invitation to possible deportation. “A lot of us are happy, and a lot of us are concerned at the same time,” says the 26-year-old student at California State University at Northridge. “There are a lot of mixed feelings.”

Starting Aug. 15, undocumented people under the age of 30 who are enrolled in school or have a diploma can request to work legally and avoid deportation if they can show they aren’t serious criminals, don’t pose a national security threat, have lived in the U.S. for the past five years, arrived in the U.S. before they were 16 and were in the country on June 15. Obama announced the program two months ago in a move widely seen as a way of shoring up Latino support before the November elections. Enacted by Executive Order, the plan circumvents lawmakers who have failed to pass the Dream Act, a bill that would give citizenship to undocumented college students who were brought to the U.S. as children. An estimated 1.76 million people may be eligible under Obama’s plan, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

(COVER STORY: Not Legal, Not Leaving)

In general, the undocumented youth of America are overjoyed with the idea. For them, it represents a first tangible step toward citizenship. Those accepted would finally be able to pursue opportunities most Americans take for granted, such as applying for a formal job, traveling freely and getting a driver’s license. An on-the-books income would give them more means to put themselves through college. And the program would open doors for many young immigrants who are stuck in low-level informal jobs, despite holding top degrees, because they can’t work legally. “We knew you could, Mr. President,” was the title of a press release sent in June by an immigrants-rights group in Los Angeles that called the move a “watershed moment in American history.” The general Hispanic population echoed that sentiment. According to a Latino Decisions poll released shortly after the announcement, 49% of Latinos said it would make them more enthusiastic about Obama.

Still, much uncertainty surrounds the President’s offer. First, while details released earlier this month about the program helped clarify some doubts about the application process, potential applicants have yet to see the questions they’d be asked. Second, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says people would be considered for the program if they haven’t been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor and do not otherwise pose a threat. But it’s unclear what officials mean by “significant” and a “threat,” so those who have had run-ins with the law are unsure whether to risk applying. Their hesitation is heightened by the caveat that applicants’ information would be shared with immigration enforcement in cases that involve serious crimes or fraud. Rights groups urge those with questionable cases to consult an attorney, but not everyone can afford one.

Doubt also stems from the fact that the government is offering a reprieve from deportation for only two years and has not said whether the privilege would be renewable. That uncertainty has potential applicants imagining several scenarios. In one, Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who is perceived to be less immigrant-friendly, could win the election and decide not to extend the program. The Administration of a re-elected Obama could make the same decision. Although unlikely, Washington could end the program before two years are up. Those who applied could then become easier targets for deportation because the government would have their fingerprints and personal information. “Everyone who applies will be known to Homeland Security hereafter,” says James Ferg-Cadima, an attorney who leads the Washington office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “What becomes of that information down the road is an open question. That is the main unknown.”

There are other dangers as well. An offering like Obama’s is bound to attract a cohort of attorneys and notaries public who either give misinformed legal advice or commit outright fraud against undocumented hopefuls. Immigrants who have been burned in the past may be loath to try again. Others who are given bad information might apply despite not being eligible. “One couple — an ice cream vendor and a housekeeper — already paid $24,000 to a lawyer for an asylum process they’ll never qualify for,” says Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).

(VIDEO: Undocumented Americans: Inside the Immigration Debate)

Interest in the program has been so great — and questions about the process so numerous — that dozens of immigrants arrive at CHIRLA’s Los Angeles headquarters every hour to attend presentations the group is giving on the topic. “Our office is packed every day,” says the group’s executive director, Angelica Salas. “We have 300 calls every day that go to voice mail. We’re going to figure out how to open on Saturday, because we have so many people waiting to come in.”

On a recent day, many concerns about the programs were voiced during a presentation. “If the application isn’t accepted, will my daughter be deported?” one woman asked in Spanish in front of a group of some 20 people. “Under what circumstances will you not be accepted?” queried another woman. One young man who works as a tattoo artist then asked if his application would be nullified by a citation he received for possessing drugs without a prescription and jail time he served for driving without a license.

The tattoo artist and his predicament were a case in point of just how complicated it can be for immigrants to decide whether to apply, especially when their family members have varying immigration statuses. After the meeting, the 23-year-old man and his parents inundated Cabrera with questions. Not only was the young man unsure whether his criminal history would be labeled a threat, his mother also wanted to know whether the application would lead immigration officials to his father, who illegally returned to the U.S. after being deported. “I’m praying to God this whole Vicodin incident doesn’t affect me,” says the would-be applicant, who is covered in tattoos and sports multiple earrings in both ears. Cabrera said the case didn’t look good for the man’s father and advised the family to get a lawyer. “Should he apply, his father will very likely be deported,” Cabrera said later. “And that will have to be on the young man’s conscience.”

Despite the risks, most young immigrants who have gone to CHIRLA for advice say they plan to apply, according to Salas. “People are really overjoyed,” she says. “For many parents and kids, it’s the best thing that could happen to them.” Indeed, a group of undocumented students who work as activists in favor of immigrant rights say that while they understand the skepticism, those who meet the requirements have no reason not to apply. They believe it unlikely that the government would end the program and deport people after two years because of the political and social challenges of removing people who have already become active contributors to the economy. “It’s an opportunity we’ve been waiting for for such a long time, so we don’t want to let it slide,” says Paola Tirado, 22, a community-college student. Tirado says she was excited to get the permit so she could work for a nonprofit and eventually teach history.

Even Edgar Felix, who says he was originally very skeptical of the program, is now planning to apply. The 22-year-old’s family was wary of approaching authorities, since his uncle was deported and his mother remains undocumented. Still, Felix says, the presentation put on by the rights organization helped clear his doubts, and he now thinks the Obama program will help him achieve his goal of being an electrical engineer. “It gives you confidence to know there are people who will help you through the steps,” Felix says. “It seems my skepticism is mostly gone.”

(MORE: Fulfilling a ‘Dream’: U.S. to Let Young Undocumented Immigrants Stay)

73 comments
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18235
18235

VANDALS....the ancient european race/group known as...vandals.

the ancient group/race, known as...vandals....overtook ancient rome, mostly just by being...illegal aliens. 

bugambilias
bugambilias

Native Americans: "The white men stole our land, they are not paying rent, we didn't vote for that." -whether this policy is good or not, your country is on the verge of collapse. Nothing matters anymore.

bugambilias
bugambilias

Native Americans: "The white men stole our land, they are not paying rent, we didn't vote for that." -whether this policy is good or not, your country is on the verge of collapse. Nothing matters anymore.

bugambilias
bugambilias

Native Americans: "The white men stole our land, they're not paying rent, we didn't vote for that."

david_d1
david_d1

Isn't it basically vote for your race?  This is Barry's gift.  Ask his pastor.

GoldenGir1
GoldenGir1

It's disgusting to read about all these people that willfully and knowingly broke the law, talking as if the government finally delivered something that they DESERVED

I hope that they do apply, and that this program expires after 2 years, and then that database can serve as guide for deportation.

Talendria
Talendria

Let's do the math on that.  If there are 1.7 million illegal immigrants in the database, and it costs $12,500 to deport an individual, you're talking about spending $21 billion to deport people who will very likely come back.  It's a total waste of money.

The only way to permanently discourage illegal immigration is to take away their reason for coming:  jobs.  If we require employers to verify citizenship status on pain of imprisonment, this problem will disappear.

RomneyRyan2012
RomneyRyan2012

"Those accepted would finally be able to pursue opportunities most Americans take for granted, such as ..." .........such as voting?

Obama is clearly in a hurry on this, he needs the illegal votes more than ever...

Goob05
Goob05

Undocumented students are an untapped source of income.

Think about it, charge 500.00 for the application fee, pay 100.00 for a Driver's license (special license for undocumented) with a renewal date of 1 year so its 100.00 per year. allow them loans for autos or home with a higher interest with 20%down. they must pay for auto insurance too.

And then IF allowed path to residency or citizenship what will be the first thing they purchase???

 houses, cars, plane tickets, furniture, etc. and no more remittances to Mexico. lets face it, they save alot and always pay cash money.

If you make them denounce their Mexican citizenship and swear loyalty to only the US and make them pay a penalty fee of 5,000 to 10,000 each person, with the requirement of denying Welfare, or Gov assistance, alot of people will denounce their birth country and pay whatever fine. which equals more income for US gov and businesses.

our country pays 50,000 to keep a prisoner in jail, why not make an island and deport them, AND make undocumented people that are not criminals pay a fine? its a win win

18235
18235

and all those illegal aliens can also make money cutting down millions of acres of forests in usa to make more room for millions of more illegal aliens.

OVER POPULATION IS GOOD!

that's what liberals who support illegal immigation believe.

WHAT USA NEEDS IS TO HAVE A BILLION PEOPLE----LIKE INDIA AND CHINA.....that's the liberal way!

Talendria
Talendria

I agree with you that deporting them is a waste of money.  Because we value civil liberty, government action against an individual is time-consuming and expensive, and I'd venture to guess that many of the deported individuals turn around and come right back.  We should focus on turning the situation to our advantage instead of feeling victimized and indulging in racism.

wandmdave
wandmdave

Fix our damn immigration laws so this isn't necessary, Congress.

18235
18235

most members of congress have four dollar an hour illegal aliens for butlers, maids, nannies, and chauffeurs.

annevincent
annevincent

Oh. How sad. Foreign criminals won't be able to continue to use their multiple names and identities once they have been fingerprinted and identified by a single name. They might actually have to pay the loans on all those new cars and credit cards. They might actually be found and put in jail for all their multiple crimes. Their illegal parents who have already been deported multiple times, might actually be deported again, and permanently identified so that they may never be allowed to ever work here again.  And those schools might find out about all the different names and different schools that individual has attended, all on the taxpayers' dime. And those families may just have to pay back all those medical bills and other bills, once their true address has been identified.  And God forbid... they might actually be forced to declare how and where they have worked to support themselves all these years.... AND PAY BACK TAXES ON ALL THAT INCOME!  

Lawmen
Lawmen

Does anyone realize that this is illegal on the Constitution level? The one about all laws must be applied to everybody. People around the world apply for US immigration through a specific process because they are being subjected under the US immigration laws. Yet we have this group of people, the President does not want to apply the immigration laws on them, puts them on hold and goes to Congress, trying to push Congress to invent new laws that will cover them.

Well, would everyone who do not want the US tax laws, traffic laws, gun laws, etc etc etc laws to be applied on them, please stand up.

AZXyb
AZXyb

To just what "immigrant rights" are these illegal aliens alluding? They are always talking about their "rights," but never name the rights under discussion. They all seem to have forgotten that illegal aliens have absolutely NO right to be in this country. And just what is the point of this article? Just another boo-hoo for illegal aliens, whether or not they were illegally brought here or made to overstay their visas by their parents? It is wrong to reward any illegal act, and this backdoor amnesty rewards illegal aliens who brought their children here for whatever reason. ALL illegal aliens should be repatriated ASAP. Illegal aliens have violated our laws, our sovereignty, our national security and now Obama and his regime are rewarding them and encroaching on the US Constitution in order to do it.

The bias of this article is clear, not only when it uses the term "undocumented" instead of the accurate term, "illegal," making the unlawful presence of illegal aliens in this country seem no more serious than having lost their library cards, but also quite subtly in the statement, "...the plan circumvents lawmakers who have failed to pass the Dream Act...."  Our federal lawmakers did not "fail" to pass the Dream Act, as if it were something that it should have done but was remiss. The truth is that our federal lawmakers heeded the wishes of the American people and *refused* to pass the Dream Act.  You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that if the American people wanted the Dream Act (in any of its versions) to pass, it would have long since happened.

Obama's "deferred action" program (NOTHING about what he has foisted on us by fiat was "enacted!") is a slap in the face to our Constitution, our Congress and to millions of unemployed Americans and those who stand behind those AMERICANS and want this nation rid of all illegal aliens, with alterations made to our immigration laws to grease the skids on deportation and so that legal immigration benefits this nation and its people and removes all the incentives for people to come and/or remain here illegally.  Not only is illegal migration to this nation ruinous, it also enables and facilitates the corrupt and incompetent governments of the countries that export their needy and unwanted to us, rather than meeting their obligations to take care of their own people.  The entitlement crown has got to go! November 6 cannot come fast enough!

f_galton
f_galton

As an American I do not intercoursing care what intercoursing illegals are "nervous" about.  

tma_sierrahills
tma_sierrahills

“'A lot of us are happy, and a lot of us are concerned at the same time,' says the 26-year-old student at California State University at Northridge. 'There are a lot of mixed feelings.'"

Yes, that happens to me every time I'm living in another country illegally. My feelings are so, you know, mixed.

Stephen I. Mayo
Stephen I. Mayo

Yes indeed, the "drift" of the article seems to conclude;  in matters of legislation, there is no substitute for the rule of law;  bills passed by the Congress in its entirety and then signed into law by the chief executive.  Executive orders creating new classes of legal standing, or impounding of funds or of any other Constitutionally-dubious intent can carry none of the certainty and finality of a properly authored bill shepherded through the time-proven, institutionally-hardened confirmatory processes of the two branches of the federal government designed specifically for the purpose; Congress and the Executive branch. 

Drago Harley
Drago Harley

Try this as an experiment:  do job searches as if you were an 18 or 22 year old just entering the work force right now.  There are not a lot of jobs out there, so the kids just graduating high school and college are already screwed.  Now, Obama has added 1.5 million more people who will be looking for work if these illegal kids can now apply for jobs too.  Suddenly it will get that much more difficult for legal citizens to get work.  That's hope and change at work, right there.  

lou1785
lou1785

It's not a program, it's just an empirical decree by the lightbringer to not enforce the rule of law. The formal legislation known as the Dream Act was voted down by congress a year or two back, but Dear leader cannot stand our system of checks and balances when it denies his highness legitimately.  So once again, the boy-king circumvented congress and our constitution to allow his bro - Big Sis, to put ICE on ICE and allow the floodgates of illegals to reamain illegal legally, but with all the benefits, maybe more benefits, than natural born citizens.

18235
18235

illegal aliens DO have more benifits than natural born citizens.

illegal aliens, in the USA just a few weeks, go to the head of the line for FREE kidney dialysis in most states.

illiterate spanish speaking illegal aliens have lots of street smarts.

Tina Ferrer
Tina Ferrer

Obama just wants information on all of us. I refuse until an immigration law is passed by the House and Senate which it will but I just don't trust Obama. 

retired.military
retired.military

Once Obama loses the election expect a massive amnesty for illegals squeezed in between his pardons for Holder, Rahm, GE leadership, Soros and a whole host of other leading lefties.

18235
18235

castro and mexico can make sure to release plenty of criminals and violent psychos, to take advantage of the amnesty.

maedell
maedell

I hope Romney is elected and deports them all. I lost my job at a local hospital because too many illegal aliens were coming to the emergency room and not paying anything. Most of them gave false information so they couldn't be found. Word had gotten out in some town in Mexico that our hospital was "a good place to have a baby for free".

alan stern
alan stern

Like giving your information to Hitler's crew.

Joseph Stern
Joseph Stern

Well, God forbid an illegal alien -- excuse me, undocumented resident -- should feel any sort of nervousness about living somewhere illegally. Excuse me, undocumentedly.

FckYou_07
FckYou_07

 Sarcasm much.! you treat them like they are a literally aliens.  They are humans just like you!.  And let me ask you this. Who is "an illegal alien" to you?

Scott Horowitz
Scott Horowitz

an illegal alien is anyone living in our country illegally by the means of laws passed in this country. That's probably too much for  you to understand. And take those quotation marks off of the term illegal alien. You typed exactly what the term is. If they want to live in our country, do it legally. We have laws on our books and people waiting in line to earn the status of american citizen. I can't believe there are people like you out there who just don't give a da/mn

AZXyb
AZXyb

They are aliens. All foreign nationals are aliens. Look it up. An illegal alien is a foreign national who is unlawfully present in a country. Of course they are human. But they are still illegal aliens who have absolutely no right to be in this country. The consequence for illegal presence in virtually every nation on the planet is deportation, even if the illegal alien violated no other laws.  This is basic and very simple stuff.

AZXyb
AZXyb

Nonsense! You seriously need to work on your reading comprehension. My ancestors, like the ancestors of millions of Americans, cam here LEGALLY. That is VERY DIFFERENT from those who came and continue to come or remain ILLEGALLY. You've been drinking the LaRaza Kool-aid. And those of us who were born here to citizens and legal residents are legally here, and as natural born citizens, are not immigrants at all. Stay in school, fella.

justice1983
justice1983

by that definition, everyone in this country is a illegal alien, i dought that youre a Native American.........should you be deported because your ancestors came here illegaly?

Blinding_Flash
Blinding_Flash

Dip-stick, a criminal is a criminal... Why do libt3rds have to sugarcoat everything?

weareallequal4
weareallequal4

People like you are so close-minded, I'm not a criminal, I had no say in coming here, never done anything illegal in my life, but yet I'm an "Illegal Alien" You should know that feels like being framed for something you really had no control over, I am not an Illegal Alien, I'm an undocumented American.

FckYou_07
FckYou_07

Not sugar coating shxt. That was not my point. A$$ wipe

dougx
dougx

Buy them a bus ticket to the border.  Meet them there, shake their hand, offer them a $50 gift card and our thanks.  No hard feelings.  Finish the fortified fence at the same time.

aniptofar
aniptofar

This is what happens when you break the law and coddle law breakers. The result will not be anything anyone is happy with.

No one discusses the costs of these people.  If we had everything under control now it would break the bank paying for all the illegals.  Given the bank is already broken, it will be far worse.

FckYou_07
FckYou_07

 Excuse you!? Bank paying for all the illegals! I think not. Learn your facts before you start saying anything!.

AZXyb
AZXyb

 Your reply is not even rational, much less coherent. Flinging insults - even cogently stated insults - advances neither your argument nor your case, in general.  Perhaps you should start with improving your reading comprehension and learning American idioms.

aniptofar
aniptofar

I think you should learn yours. Over 150 addresses filed over 1000 ITINs. At a minimum 5 billion went down the drain. Likely more since they are intentionally not tracking it.

aniptofar
aniptofar

It's in several news reports. The fact you are uninformed on this is completely your fault. Google it if nothing else.

FckYou_07
FckYou_07

And I'm sure you work at the IRS?.

lolvincitomnia
lolvincitomnia

The fact is, Obama doesn't legally have the right to offer this amnesty, which is the reason why it's this temporary thing, Obama is setting up the moronic illegal aliens, he's coddling, not out of an interest to help them, but because he desires to destroy the US economy, and illegals bleed the system dry. These illegals don't help the economy, even when they work they are stealing benefits. They're unfit workers, lazy, ignorant, and ineducable. The day is coming, when there will be another operation wetback, and these illegals, their parents, and their anchor babies will be shoveled onto a boat and sailed down the Mexican coast, far down it and dumped back in the cesspit they slithered out of. 

Capn
Capn

Obama creates law by making speeches. Let's see Ryan try that.

46rabbit64
46rabbit64

I hope all of them sign up before November.  After Romney is elected, it will make it easier to find them and kick their illegal asses out of our country.

vstillwell
vstillwell

So, Romney's your poster boy for justice now. You have low standards. 

FckYou_07
FckYou_07

 And then once Obama stays president we'll kick your ass. ;) ignorant!