Thousands of people living in the United States and in Tennessee are hoping to be approved for deferred action by the Department of Homeland Security.
Wednesday was the first day applicants could apply for deferred action for childhood arrivals.
The program, announced June 15, will allow some undocumented aliens to remain in the country and obtain employment authorization.
“This opens up a whole new era of possibilities for these people,” immigration attorney Elliott Ozment said. “It is a worthy program because these young people had nothing to do with the decision to come into this country.”
Applicants must meet a set of qualifications set forth by the Department of Homeland Security to qualify for the deferment.
In order to qualify applicants have to be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.
They have to have come to the United States before their sixteenth birthday and have continuously lived in the U.S. for the past five years.
Applicants must also be currently enrolled in school, have graduated or obtained a GED.
They can also be honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.
They can not be a convicted felon, can not have a single significant misdemeanor, can not have three or more other misdemeanor and cannot otherwise pose a threat to national security or the public's safety.
Many of the requirements mirror requirements proposed as part of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. That legislation has not gained Congressional approval.
But, some attorneys are warning undocumented immigrants to be careful when applying.
A provision of the order allows immigration officials to share information about a deferral applicant's immediate family with immigration enforcement officials.
“That is the reason we have urged these people to retain attorneys,” Ozment said. “It will not serve them well at all to represent their self.”
In other cases, Ozment said retaining an attorney can help some find better ways to legally to remain in the country without applying for deferral.
“We have found approximately 30% of those people qualify for another benefit,” he said. “Some of them are married to a U.S. citizen and can be sponsored by a U.S. citizen; others have been the victim of a crime and qualify for a U visa.”
According to DHS, the U nonimmigrant status is set aside for victims of crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and who are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation of the criminal activity.
“They need an attorney to screen not just their case, but their entire family,” Ozment said.
One of Ozment's clients, Miguel, is applying for deferral. The 23-year-old high school graduate did not know he was in the country illegally until after he graduated from high school.
“I started going to universities to apply and they asked me for a social security number,” he said. “I asked my mother. That is when I found out that I was not here legally.”
Miguel wants to become a registered nurse, but because of his illegal status he can not apply to school.
If his application for deferred action is approved he will be able to receive employment authorization so he can work legally. He will also be able to get a federal identification number he can use to apply to college.
“It means a lot of things,” he said. “It means I can have the job I always dreamed of and I will be able to fulfill my dreams.”
Miguel continued, “When you graduate from high school you want to be something, now I am going to be able to do that.”
The Department of Homeland Security has hired extra staff to process applications at processing centers around the country.
The positions are being funded by fees collected from applicants seeking deferred action.
It could take several months before Miguel and other applicants find out if their applications were approved.
Approved applicants must reapply for deferred action every two years.
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