Advisers, lawyers help local students start DREAM Act paperwork
With the help of local lawyers and organizations, some undocumented students have begun the process of applying for a temporary legal status in order to go to college. President Obama granted the defferred status to students who would qualify for the politically gridlocked DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which aims to give the students permanent residency. The temporary status will last two years, with the option to reapply, and students can apply starting Aug. 15.
Groups like Coalición de Derechos Humanos (The Human Rights Coalition) and Scholarships A-Z, as well as Margo Cowan, a lawyer at the Pima County Public Defender’s office, have been meeting with these students to ensure that they understand the qualifications and avoid scams.
Cowan has been to Pueblo Magnet High School three times since Obama’s announcement granting deferred status to “DREAMers,” or undocumented students who have been in the country since before they were 16 years old, and are under the age of 31. The status allows students to remain in the U.S. for two years to attend college and can be renewed. During Cowan’s visits to the school, she provided parents and students with information about the qualifications for the deferred status and answered questions about various situations.
“We have an obligation to serve our community and particularly as lawyers we have an obligation to reach out and organize services for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them,” Cowan said.
Other lawyers who have partnered with Cowan have signed a representation form agreeing to represent each of these students if they get detained by Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement for being undocumented. Cowan is not charging any legal fees for her work or representation, although students do have to pay their own filing fees, she said.
Cowan will be hosting a fourth information session at Pueblo High Magnet School on Aug. 13 where students will be able to take their necessary documents or ask her questions about the process.
Deferred Action status requirements:
— Came to the U.S. under the age of 16
— Has continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years before June 15 and was present in the U.S. on June 15
— Is currently in school, has graduated from high school, obtained a GED or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
— Has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses or otherwise posses a threat to national security or public safety
— Is under the age of 31
— A fee of $465 is also required to pay for the work permit and background check.
According to a study from the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council entitled “Who and Where the DREAMers Are,” more than 50,000 Arizona students will benefit from the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action Initiative. Of these students, 65 percent are immediate beneficiaries, or students who are within the qualifying age group, and 35 percent are future beneficiaries, not yet 15 years old.
“These students are the future of our country,” Cowan said. “They are for all intents and purposes U.S. citizens except the paper.”
Scholarships A-Z, an organization that assists students in finding scholarships regardless of their immigration status, has also been helping students who are applying for the deferred action initiative. The students in the organization focus on educating DREAMers about how to prepare for the application process and how to avoid scams from notaries and lawyers.
“There are so many scams out there,” said Matt Matera, director and co-founder of Scholarships A-Z. “There’ll be notarios (notaries) or lawyers who are saying they know what they’re doing and … they’re charging folks upwards of $5,000.”
There are many programs in the community that are helping students for little to no cost according to Matera.
Matera, who is also a UA graduate student studying higher education, helped create Scholarships A-Z in May 2009 because he noticed many laws and policies that made higher education more expensive for undocumented students, he said. Proposition 300, a law in Arizona that requires students to prove legal residency in order to pay in-state tuition, has made it difficult for undocumented students to afford college.
“They blocked access because there’s a price tag associated with universities and that price tag continues to increase while aid for all students … continues to decrease.”
Daniela Nada, a co-director of Scholarships A-Z’s student action committee, was introduced to the organization in January. She was awarded a scholarship to help her with her first semester at Pima Community College, but noticed that her parents were struggling to pay for the remainder of her education.
When she met Ana Valenzuela, Scholarships A-Z’s other co-founder, Nada said she realized that there are resources for undocumented students to continue with their education. She wanted to teach other students that they can stay in school and find ways to pay for it, she said, and became involved with the program.
Nada said she is happy that she’ll be able to apply for deferred status and legally get a job in the states but she believes more should be done. The goal is to obtain citizenship, which is what the DREAM act would accomplish if it were passed.
“I’m still stuck here … I cannot leave this country,” she said. “I’m just helping the economy … I want to have freedom like those who are U.S. citizens.”
When she was 9 years old, Nada got in a car with her family and was told they were going on vacation, she said. This vacation became a permanent stay in the states.
Nada said she realized in eighth grade that things would be harder for her after high school. While a two-year legalization program is a good start to having rights in this country, Nada said she wishes she could go visit her family in Mexico and be able to re-enter the U.S.
Taking five classes this semester, Nada said she hopes to have her associate’s degree next May and is looking to transfer to a university in New Mexico.
Matera believes policies like Proposition 300 make students feel unwelcome in Arizona universities and causes students such as Nada to move elsewhere to continue their education.
“If we miss out on those students because they decide to move somewhere, then our whole state’s economy has missed out on that talent,” Matera said. “And that’s just something that I’m not willing to let happen and I don’t think anybody else should either.”