Oakton offers help to immigrants navigating deferred action process
Thousands in line at Navy Pier as Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, take part in a DREAM Relief Day, assisting undocumented students apply for deferred action to stay and study in the United States legally, Wednesday, August 13, 2012 .
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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:17PM
DES PLAINES — As young, undocumented immigrants consider registering for deferred-action status in an effort to legally live — and work — in the United States, even on a temporary basis, Oakton Community College is reaching out to help.
The college, which serves a diverse student population across 22 suburbs, is collaborating with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Latinos in Skokie, a community-based educational and outreach group, to offer informational workshops to students, staff and residents interested in learning more about the new initiative that aims to provide a deportation reprieve to some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
“These workshops will provide information and training for those looking to become more familiar with the deferred-action-petition process and to inform undocumented immigrants of their rights,” said Luis Caballero, student recruitment and outreach specialist at Oakton. “At the workshops we will also connect students to pro bono legal aid in the area.”
The workshops are tentatively scheduled for mid- to late-October and will likely occur on a Saturday, Caballero said.
They are one example of the ways Oakton has been actively reaching out to undocumented teenagers and young adults in the area, Caballero said. The Department of Student Recruitment and Outreach meets with local middle-school and high-school students to “let students know what Oakton has to offer when they finish high school” and that they can qualify for financial aid even if they do not have a Social Security number, Caballero said. In addition the college no longer requires students to provide a Social Security number when applying for or accepting scholarships offered through Oakton, Caballero said.
“Our goal is to be an anti-bias institution. That’s one of our chief initiatives,” he said.
The college further reaches out to the undocumented community through a Latino Family College Planning Day, which features a day of workshops and speakers focused on preparing young people for college.
“We want to get information out there because a lot of time the biggest barrier is not having enough information,” Caballero said.
Through the deferred-action process students have hope of securing a work permit if they do obtain a college degree. The program is targeted to help students, those with a high-school diploma or equivalent, or an honorable military discharge. Applicants must have arrived in the United States before age 16, lived here for five years, are age 30 or younger, and be without a felony conviction and most misdemeanors.
Still, it is a temporary action and “does not provide a path to lawful, permanent resident status or U.S. citizenship,” according to the National Immigrant Law Center.
But a number of students have begun inquiring about the initiative at Oakton and the school has been referring them to other, outside resources where they can obtain additional information, Caballero said.
Students at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, which, like Oakton, has an ethnically diverse student population, are also aware of the deferred-status program, as is evidenced by requests Maine Township High School District 207 has received for proof of enrollment, said District Spokesman David Beery.
“One qualifying condition for deferred-action status is that an individual be a student. We have had several students ask us to provide proof that they are enrolled at East,” he said. “In those cases we have provided verification letters.”
The district, Beery added, is not normally aware of the immigration status of its students.
“That’s neither our role nor our interest,” he said. “Our job is to provide the best-quality education possible for all students who live within District 207 and to be supportive of their opportunities and that’s what we try to do.”
On Aug. 15, the first day to file deferred-action applications, an estimated 15,000 undocumented young adults lined up at Navy Pier for assistance in completing the forms, according to the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago.
Three forms are required with a $465 application fee and a list of documents to prove residency for the past five years, including school records, medical receipts, financial records or church documents. If approved a two-year deferred status is granted, and reapplication must be made, if the program continues.
Though the deferred-status policy offers the hope of temporary benefits, it also poses risks.
“It is not a law or even an executive order. There is a risk coming forward and applying because a policy and a government can change,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, legal director of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. “We would hope the government would never take the position to put all of the hundreds of thousands of people who apply into deportation proceedings.”
Applicants who are rejected also risk deportation, so it is essential to secure good legal advice, experts warn.
“We want to make sure people don’t become victims of fraud by going to unauthorized practitioners,” Ruiz-Velasco said.
Workshops and free legal resources are listed on the justice center’s website, www.immigrantjustice.org. An online self-assessment to check qualifications for deferred status is at available https://dreamerjustice.org.
— Jane Michaels contributed to this story.