Facing New Options and Realities


Young immigrants who have received temporary reprieves from deportation learn that their new status comes with new responsibilities.

Since August some 20,000 young immigrants in New York state have applied for the Obama Administration’s program granting a two-year reprieve from deportation. And as they receive notice of their new, temporary status, they are beginning to realize that along with it comes a new obligation to “live on the books.”

“For many it’s the first time they are given a paycheck and not paid in cash,” said Jesus Peña, a lawyer at Asociacion Tepeyac, a nonprofit group that helps young immigrants apply for the deferrals – and then guides them through such bureaucratic processes as getting a Social Security number or opening a bank account.

Around 60 approved applicants for the Deferred Action program attended the session explaining what their new rights and responsibilities were with their new statuses. Credit: ALMA FAUSTO

Because they have lived off the books, “It’ll be the first time they have their own checkbook,” and have to keep it balanced, said Peña. “We already had someone that sent a check to the Department of Homeland Security for his application that didn’t clear.” The new reality: the mistake cost the young immigrant a $40 overdraft fee.

Just a few months ago, Peña’s group held workshops on how to apply for the deportation reprieves, commonly known as “deferred action” and offered to illegal immigrants who can show they arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, are under the age of 31 and are either studying or have finished high school.  Now, Asociacion Tepeyac offers new workshops, inviting those who have received deferred action approval to come learn what’s next in their new immigrant life, which includes the right to work legally in the U.S.

Juan Jacobo, 20, and a new student at LaGuardia Community College, came to a session last week at the Asociacion Tepeyac office in the Lower East Side hoping to learn how to apply for college financial aid.

“Right now I’m paying out of pocket. The classes are a little expensive for me,” Jacobo said. “I’m paying $1,200 per semester.”

To his disappointment, Jacobo learned that even though he now can’t be deported, he’s still not eligible for federal student loans or other programs, such as the federal work-study program that would help him earn money while working at the college.

Confusion is common among those who have received their deferred action approval notices and work permits, said Joel Magallan, executive director of Asociacion Tepeyac.

The workshops his group has organized tell immigrants about minimum wage laws and other basic work rights. They offer information on how to apply for a driver’s license and Social Security number, and how to file taxes.

Sandra Cordero, 21, said some of her relatives discouraged her from applying for deferred action, saying “they’re just going to make you pay taxes.”

Cordero is from Hidalgo, Mexico. Like the several dozen other immigrants at Asociacion Tepeyac’s workshop, her parents brought her to the U.S. when she was a child – just two years old in Cordero’s case. She ignored those who warned she’d have to pay taxes; she’s happy to do so, she said, in exchange for the deportation reprieve, which has been approved for her.

Sandra Cordero, 21, pictured with her 1-year-old daughter has already been approved for a two-year reprieve from deportation and is just waiting for her work permit to arrive in the mail. Credit: ALMA FAUSTO

“If you want your kids to get a good education, pay your taxes,” said Cordero, who has a one-year-old daughter. “It’s for her benefit and for our benefit.”

Cordero lives with her parents and her daughter’s father. She says she would like to pursue her own education. But with no financial aid readily available, school is going to wait.

“I want to find a job and start working,” Cordero said. “Even if it’s part time, I can contribute.”

When asked what she plans to do after her two-year deportation deferment is up, Cordero said she was hopeful that a national immigration reform law would pass Congress by then. If not, she said, she would apply for renewal of her deferred action status.

Although the deferred action plan was introduced as a two-year program, the Department of Homeland Security has said that when these deferrals expire, immigrants can apply for an extension.

Because of the extension possibility, Peña said his group is urging young immigrants to begin paying taxes, opening bank accounts and building credit histories, to document their new lives “on the books.”

Those who apply for extensions “will be asked to prove that they were living in the United States,” Peña said. “They don’t understand all of their rights. That’s what we’re trying to do. We have to let them know.”



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