Deferred Action Applicant: "After the Two Years, What’s Going to Happen to Me?"

Since President Obama’s new "deferred action" program went into effect last week, thousands of young, undocumented Latinos have lined up to apply for it, even as uncertainty builds over the controversial measure.

Immigrant advocacy groups, which are offering workshops and other assistance to people who may be eligible for the program that allows those who entered the country illegally as minors to stay for at least two years, say interest is high despite concerns that disclosing people’s status to the federal government could be risky.

“People understand it’s a one-time opportunity,” said Diana Perez, a community organizer with Puente Arizona, a grassroots organization in Phoenix. “It’s not a path to citizenship, but it’s something and it is exciting to be able to be given an opportunity to officially contribute to the community."

In Arizona, those who qualify for the program may face other hurdles, given the executive order that Governor Jan Brewer issued October 15 barring them from obtaining a driver’s license, a state-issued identification card, and any state or local public benefits.

The federal program “does not confer upon them any lawful or authorized status and does not entitle them to any additional benefits,” Brewer wrote in the order, which she said merely reaffirms existing state laws.

Brewer’s order was not well received among the immigrant community and its advocates.

“This order shows that it’s not about what state officials have been saying it’s about – people not doing things the legal way,” Perez said. “It’s about xenophobia; there’s a lot of bigotry written all over this.”

Both Perez and her older brother, Jose, came here as children and she recently was granted permanent residency. Jose still lacks legal status and is getting ready to apply for deferred action, albeit with some trepidation.

“I’m just concerned that after the two years, what’s going to happen to me?” he said. “Are they going to kick me out?”

At 27, Jose Perez is hoping that through the program, he will be able get a permit to work so he can save up money and finish college.

“With a job, at least I’ll be stable financially,” he said.

Up to 1.7 million people could take part in the program, which allows qualified participants to stay in the country and obtain a work permit and other documents without fear of being deported for at least two years. Candidates who are 30 or younger and arrived in the United States at 16 or younger could qualify. They also must have no felony convictions, and have been in the country since June 15, 2007.

Meanwhile, Nebraska quickly followed Arizona’s footsteps, with Governor Dave Heineman saying on October 17 that the state will not grant driver’s licenses and public benefits to recipients of the federal temporary legal status. On the flip side, state officials in New York shortly before the program went into effect have announced $450,000 in grants for groups to assist program applicants.