Immigration experts in Oklahoma are preparing for a surge of interest from people who want to take advantage of President Barack Obama's decision to ease rules on the deportation of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as young children.
But they warn the rules are far from set, and to be wary of anyone making promises.
“There is literally so much misinformation and a lack of understanding out there,” said Richard Klinge, associate director of advocacy, outreach and legal services for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. “The specific requirements haven't been developed and no one should be saying otherwise.”
So far, the government has released basic eligibility criteria: Undocumented immigrants must have been brought to the United States before age 16 and be no older than 30. They must have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have a clean criminal record, have graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or be military veterans in good standing.
Details still coming
More details and an application process should be in place in the next 60 days.
Chris Brewster, superintendent of Santa Fe South charter schools, said students and parents are asking questions about what the next steps are and trying to get documents together.
Educators estimate up to 25 percent of students at Santa Fe South High School are undocumented.
“We have kids living in fear,” Brewster said. “One minute a kid is getting ready for graduation and the next they're in general population at the jail awaiting deportation because of a broken headlight. We have to get these kids on to higher education and on to careers.”
School officials are consulting with attorneys who will be available to meet with students and parents at a July 19 back-to-school bash.
Klinge said Catholic Charities attorneys are starting to meet with would-be applicants and are disseminating information to churches to make sure accurate information is reaching those in need.
“Some people think this is the DREAM Act,” Klinge said. “It's not. There is no path to citizenship, there are no substantive rights.”
Doug Stump, Oklahoma City immigration attorney and president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association added, “Deferred action is not immunity. Deferred action is not permanent. Deferred action is not a pathway to a green card or citizenship. Deferred action is not legal status. Youth that qualify cannot vote or petition for family members. This is a temporary reprieve.”
Stump said those wanting to apply should only seek the council of qualified immigration attorneys and reputable organizations.
They should start gathering financial records, medical records, school records, employment records and military records to show they meet eligibility requirements.
For immigrants who choose to come forward and qualify, Homeland Security officials will use prosecutorial discretion to grant deferred action. The reprieve will be valid for two years and can be renewed.
The status allows immigrants to apply for work permits. Those granted work permits are also able to get a driver's license in many states, including Oklahoma.