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Young Illegal Immigrants Seek Work Permits

Sep 26, 2012
Originally published on September 26, 2012 5:54 pm

It's been more than a month since the government began accepting requests for its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama administration's policy for young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Hundreds of thousands of people are eligible for the program. So far, only 82,000 have applied.

Carlos Martinez is one of the 29 people who have actually gotten deferrals. It means that he won't be deported, and that he can get a work permit. Martinez applied for the deferred action program the first day.

Sitting in his parents' home in Tucson, Ariz., he's especially excited about the two-year work permit.

"There's so much out there, opportunities — opportunities I've been waiting for 15 years, pretty much," Martinez says.

Martinez was brought to Tucson from Mexico by his parents at the age of 9. As a high school junior, he realized he was in the country illegally. He graduated from high school and earned a bachelor's and a master's degree in software engineering from the University of Arizona. That was seven years ago. Now at 30, he says he can finally use his skills to apply for a job at one of his dream companies.

"Microsoft or Google or Cisco — you name it. Top, top software companies. I can definitely contribute. I have so many ideas," he says.

Up the road in Phoenix, Dulce Vazquez is one of the young people volunteering at the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition office. They're organizing a voter registration drive. Vazquez says she's applying for deferred action as soon as she can gather the paperwork.

"Just today I got my medical records that I'm going to use to kind of show a timeline, a consistent timeline of me being here, present and active within the community as well," Vazquez says.

Applicants have to prove they've been in the U.S. illegally but continually for the past five years; they have to be between 15 and 31 years old; and they have to be in the military, in school or have graduated. Vazquez says she's submitting even more evidence just to be sure — high school attendance and honor roll awards, a state award for future business leaders.

"That's my way of proving I'm not a danger to society of any kind. Even though they're going to be doing a background check anyways, but I'm still being a little bit paranoid I guess," she says.

But Francisco Luna says it's not so easy for him. For starters, he's having trouble coming up with the $465 government fee for the program.

"What's stopping me? Currently right now it is the money, and I do believe I have a few gaps," Luna says.

By gaps, he means records proving he's been in the U.S. continually for five years. Luna is 22 and says he's been in the Phoenix area since he was 10. He graduated from high school, but he's been going to college only off and on since. So he says he may try some other ways to fill in the gaps — like Facebook.

"I've seen some people say Facebook posts. If you have a Facebook post and it has a photo in it, use that," he says.

For the record, Facebook posts may have dates attached, but a government spokesman says they're not very good evidence. Officials are looking for lease agreements, medical records, school transcripts. Some school districts, in fact — like Los Angeles Unified — have reported being swamped with transcript requests. That could explain some of the delay in submissions; so could fear. Luna is afraid the policy could change depending on who's elected president.

"If President Obama does not get elected and Romney comes in — either he changes the policy and takes it off, or changes the criteria to it," Luna says.

That could happen. The Obama administration says the deferred action program is prosecutorial discretion — a way to focus immigration enforcement on higher priorities, like criminals. Republicans say it's an administration overreach — a backdoor amnesty.

Martinez says worrying about what may happen down the road is silly.

"We already live in fear, so it's not like you're going to get more fear out of that. I don't see it that way. We already live in fear; every day we live in fear everywhere we go," he says.

Martinez argues that any protection — even temporary — is better than none at all.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

We're going to check in now on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It's a dull, clunky name for the new Obama administration policy that has generated plenty of excitement and protest. The program is for young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It allows them to avoid deportation and get a work permit for two years. Hundreds of thousands of people are eligible. So far, 82,000 have applied. But nationwide, so far just 29 people have been approved.

NPR's Ted Robbins recently talked with one of them, along with a few other potential applicants.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Carlos Martinez applied for the Deferred Action program the first day. Now, he's one of the 29 people who've been approved for it. Sitting in his parent's home in Tucson, he's especially excited about the two-year work permit.

CARLOS MARTINEZ: There's so much out there, opportunities. Opportunities that, like I've been waiting 15 years pretty much, you know.

ROBBINS: Martinez was brought to Tucson from Mexico by his parents at nine. As a high school junior, 15 years ago, he realized he was in the country illegally. He graduated from high school and earned a Bachelors and a Masters degree in software engineering from the University of Arizona. That was seven years ago. Now, at 30, he says he can finally use his skills to apply for a job at one of his dream companies.

CARLOS MARTINEZ: I mean, Microsoft, or Google or Cisco. I mean, you name it, you know, top software companies. I can definitely contribute. I have so many ideas.

DULCE VAZQUEZ: So I'm just (unintelligible) boarding history.

ROBBINS: Up the road in Phoenix, Dulce Vazquez is one of the young people volunteering at the Arizona Dream Act Coalition office. They're organizing a voter registration drive. Vazquez says she's applying for deferred action as soon as she can gather the paperwork.

VAZQUEZ: Just today I got my medical records that I'm going to use to kind of show a timeline. 'Cause there's a timeline of me being here present and active in the community as well.

ROBBINS: Applicants have to prove they've been in the U.S. illegally but continually for the last five years. They have to be between 15 and 31 years old, and in the military, in school or have graduated. Dulce Vazquez says she's submitting even more evidence just to be sure; high school attendance and honor roll awards, a state award for future business leaders.

VAZQUEZ: That's my way of proving I'm not a danger to society of any kind. Even though they're going to go back and check anyways but I'm just being a little paranoid, I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBBINS: Standing near her, Francisco Luna says it's not so easy for him. For starters, he's having trouble coming up with the $465 government fee for the program.

FRANCISCO LUNA: What's stopping me currently right now, it is the money and I do believe I have a few gaps.

ROBBINS: By gaps he means records proving he's been in the U.S. continually for five years. Luna is 22. He says he's been in the Phoenix area since he was 10. He graduated high school but he's been going to college only off and on since. So he says he may try some other ways to fill in the gaps.

LUNA: I've seen some people say like, you know, Facebook posts. If you have a Facebook post and it has a photo in it.

ROBBINS: For the record, Facebook posts may have dates attached, but a government spokesman says they're not very good evidence. Officials are looking for lease agreements, medical records, school transcripts. Some school districts, in fact, like Los Angeles Unified, have reported being swamped with transcript requests. That could explain some of the delay in submissions. So could fear.

Francisco Luna is afraid the policy could change depending on who's elected president.

LUNA: If President Obama does not get elected and Romney comes in, whether either he changes the policy, takes it off, or changes the criteria to it.

ROBBINS: Could happen. The Obama administration says the deferred action program is prosecutorial discretion: a way to focus immigration enforcement on higher priorities, like criminals. Republicans say it's an administration overreach, a backdoor amnesty.

Carlos Martinez, the young man who just got his deferral and work permit, he says worrying about what may happen down the road is silly.

MARTINEZ: We already live in fear, so it's not like you're going to get more fear out of that. You know, I mean I don't see it that way. You know what I mean? We already live in fear. Every day we live in fear everywhere we go.

ROBBINS: Martinez argues that any protection even temporary is better than none at all.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.