Thousands in Utah could be eligible for deportation deferment
Sol Jimenez starts college at the University of Utah on Monday, but her pursuit of her dream officially begins Wednesday.
The 18-year-old was brought to the United States illegally 16 years ago. She's lived in the shadows, but shined brightly enough to carry a 3.8 GPA.
Now, she'll start filing paperwork and hopes she'll process through under the guidelines laid down by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that will allow her to attend school and obtain a work permit under President Barack Obama's deferred action policy.
"I try to maintain a realistic outlook," she said. "But I'm excited."
Jimenez will join as many as 8,000 other illegal immigrants in Utah who could be eligible for the policy, unveiled by the president in June. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, as many as 1.7 million could be eligible nationally.
The policy is not amnesty, according to remarks made by Obama when he outlined the proposal.
"This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," Obama said. "This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people."
Rose Maizner, spokeswoman for Comunidades Unidas (Communities United), said the group is working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah to conduct workshops and assist those who think they might be eligible for the deferred action.
"I know the ACLU has been swamped trying to pull it all together," Maizner said. "There's a lot of interest in it."
The deferred action has strict parameters, however.
To be eligible for the two-year deferment, a person has to have arrived in the United States prior to turning 16, have continuously lived in the country since June 2007 and have enrolled in school after earning a high school diploma or a GED. They can also have been honorably discharged from the military. They cannot be older than 30.
And, to be eligible, the applicant can't have been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor offense or three or more other misdemeanors.
The deportation deferment which carries a $465 application fee has to be renewed after two years.
Tim Wheelwright, a Salt Lake City-based immigration attorney, said feedback he's gotten from those seeking eligibility under the plan has been positive.
"I just got an email this afternoon from somebody who looked over the forms and said they felt it was something they could do," Wheelwright said. "I feel it's pretty straightforward and, by and large, I feel good about the process. There's great information that's been made available and it's been pretty transparent in what they're looking for and what they expect."
But not everyone is happy to see the new policy kick in.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said the policy was a case of Obama overstepping his authority.
"This is something that should go through the process of the Congress," Chaffetz said. "Like it or not, we are a nation of laws and the president doesn't just get to make this stuff up as he goes."
Chaffetz, who has been stumping for presumptive GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney, also questioned the timing of the policy that closely mirrors the DREAM Act which is immensely popular with Latinos.
"I'm sure it's just a coincidence that this is happening 86 days before the election," he said. "Give me a break. It's pandering."
Online answers and forms
For those who think they might be eligible for the policy, USCIS has set up a page on its website that answers questions and provides forms. The website is http://www.uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals.
Applications are available at http://tinyurl.com/yaw8mf