DREAM Act Grants Immigrants Citizenship Opportunity

Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano

An estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants across the United States can start gathering their birth certificates, high school diplomas and military records to show that they qualify for a new Obama administration program – the DREAM Act — that can grant them deportation exceptions.

Starting Aug. 15, here is the criteria to participate in this initiative: young illegal immigrants who were brought here by 16, have graduated high school or served in the military. Fitting that criteria, one can apply to receive a two-year deferment from deportation proceedings. At the same time, they can apply for a work permit.

The total cost for the application process will be $465, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday while explaining how the process will work.

While supporters have been relieved since Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the plan in June, they are now more concerned with illegal immigrants fearful of applying, or being taken advantage of by real or fake immigration attorneys.

Gerardo Salinas, 25, an illegal immigrant whose family brought him to Chicago from Mexico when he was 13, said he heard radio ads for lawyers offering assistance shortly after Napolitano’s decision. He visited two attorneys, and they each said it would cost $1,700 for them to collect his paperwork and submit it to the federal government.

He refused to pay the fee. But Salinas, who went blind when he was 12, wants to be an immigration attorney and was stunned to see people taking advantage of this life-altering opportunity for young illegal immigrants.

“They’re Latinos,” he said of the attorneys. “They may not be undocumented, but they have relatives, friends who are or were undocumented. They should know how much we suffer to work, how much we suffer getting health care, with school. It’s sad.”

Similar reports have been pouring into the offices of civil rights groups and members of Congress for weeks. On Thursday, about a dozen congressmen came together to warn people who qualify for the deferment against attorneys, sometimes referred to as “notarios,” seeking payment.

“Please don’t be taken advantage of,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. “You don’t need an attorney.”

Jacqueline Esposito, of the New York Immigration Coalition, said many are fearful that the government will use the program to identify and capture relatives who are illegal immigrants. But Homeland Security officials said Friday that information in applications will be confidential and will not be used to round up other people.

“There’s a lot of skepticism about DHS and this administration,” Esposito said. “We are assuring them that they’re not putting their families at risk if they apply.”

The members of Congress also warned potential beneficiaries of the program that if they attempt to defraud the system, it will not only hurt themselves, but the entire movement to grant them full legal status.

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