ALAMOSA — SLV Immigrant Resource Center staff are optimistic that recent and proposed immigration reforms will assist many San Luis Valley residents.
For example, the Alamosa-based organization has been busy processing deferred action applications since last summer, when Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced young people who were brought to the United States as young children did not present a risk to national security. Napolitano stated if these young people met certain criteria they would be eligible to receive deferred action for two years, subject to renewal, and would be eligible to apply for work authorization.
SLV Immigrant Resource Center Executive Director Flora Archuleta said her office has processed about 40 deferred action applications since last August, and 70 percent of those have been approved already.
Criteria for deferred action includes: came to U.S. under age 16 and are not over 30; have resided in U.S. continuously for at least five years; are in school, graduated from high school or obtained a GED or are honorably discharged veterans; and have not been convicted of felony or significant misdemeanor offenses.
Referring to the deferred action approved last year, President Barack Obama said this week, “We took up the cause of the DREAMers, the young people who were brought to this country as children, young people who have grown up here, built their lives here, have futures here. We said that if you’re able to meet some basic criteria like pursuing an education, then we’ll consider offering you the chance to come out of the shadows so that you can live here and work here legally, so that you can finally have the dignity of knowing you belong.”
Archuleta said applicants under deferred action are excited about their new freedoms, such as being able to get driver’s licenses.
“Their biggest thing is ‘can I go get my driver’s license right now?’”
Congress will once again be taking up the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which Obama also promoted this week in his immigration reform message.
“We need Congress to act — and not just on the DREAM Act,” Obama said. “ We need Congress to act on a comprehensive approach that finally deals with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the country right now.”
The president said he was encouraged about the current bipartisan desire to tackle comprehensive immigration reform.
Archuleta was also encouraged.
“A lot of the community working here is undocumented,” she said. “There’s some hope for these people they will be able to work legally in the United States and eventually get citizenship. All these people want is to legally work here … drive legally and work legally without fear.”
The key principles advocated by Obama for immigration reform are:
• Strengthen Border Security: improve port of entry infrastructure; create new criminal penalties and crack down on transnational crime such as drug, human and weapon trafficking; establish border community liaisons; deport criminals back to their home countries; and increase immigration court personnel.
• Crack Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers: use federal government databases to verify potential employees’ eligibility; increase penalties for hiring undocumented workers; mandate fraud-resistant Social Security cards; and create labor law enforcement fund to enforce compliance.
• Provide undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship: create provisional legal status; create requirements for lawful permanent resident status, such as paying taxes, learning English and passing criminal background checks; provide for children brought here illegally to earn citizenship by going to college or serving in the Armed Forces; and establish fraud prevention programs.
• Streamline Legal Immigration: eliminate backlogs in family-sponsored immigration and employment-sponsored immigration by temporarily increasing annual visa numbers and eliminating annual country caps; streamline visa and foreign visitor processing, for example designating countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program; attach green cards to diplomas in science, technology, engineering and math earned by foreign graduates who have found employment in the U.S.; provide visas to foreign entrepreneurs starting businesses here; expand opportunities for investor visas; create new visa category for skilled immigrants working in federal science and technology laboratories on national security needs; streamline immigration law for immigrants who are victims of crime and domestic violence and those applying for asylum; and encourage immigrant integration.