Advocates worry Obama deportation policy will cause new headaches

The Obama administration’s immigration policy changes have sparked worries the rules may create new problems for the illegal immigrant population, leaving young people vulnerable to criminals attempting to rip them off and creating anxiety their parents might get deported.

The new deferred deportation policy is aimed at helping certain young and eligible illegal immigrants stay in the country temporarily and work, but advocacy groups are concerned distrust toward the White House may hinder the program’s success.

Joanne Lin, the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said one of the biggest concerns is the uncertainty about what would happen to the illegal parents of the young people who take advantage of the new policy.

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To gain deferment for their children, parents will likely have to expose their own illegal status to government officials, possibly setting them up to be deported, said Lin.

“Most likely it would be a parent or a guardian who is in that process and the parent has to worry about being arrested, detained, or possibly deported, which they would be based on the department’s prior record,” said Lin.

Marshall Fitz, the director of immigration policy for Center for American Progress, pointed to the immigrant community’s lack of trust towards the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because of how it has enforced its deportation policy up until now.

The head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a memo last year announcing that the agency would prioritize the deporting of criminals in the country illegally over those who do not have a criminal history.

But many local and national immigrant rights leaders told the administration at a summit earlier this week that the policy, which they lauded at the time, has been mostly a sham, families without criminal records have been broken up, and children of illegal immigrants are often taken to child welfare services.

“There is a lot of skepticism in the community,” Fitz said. “It’s kind of like, show us the proof here, because the last time we applauded your effort it certainly did not live up to the expectations.”

Mary Giovagnoli, the director of the Immigration Policy Center, agreed and said, “It’s only going to work if people believe that the process has integrity and people actually get deferred action because of it.”

The skepticism may prevent eligible illegal immigrants from coming forward to take advantage of the new policy, the groups said.

Another major concern is that criminals will try and scam illegal immigrants who are eligible for the new deferred action by promising to take care of their applications and paperwork for a fee, with no intention of following through.

“In the past we’ve seen people who take advantage of a situation where they think they can make a lot of quick money preying upon immigrants, many of whom don’t speak and read English, many of them are dependent on word of mouth for their news,” said Lin.

Lin added that she thinks DHS is “very concerned” about the risk of this sort of fleecing and the agency is conducting a heavy amount of outreach towards the immigrant community in English and Spanish to educate them about the new policy.

The ACLU and dozens of other immigrant rights groups are also working hard to advise illegal immigrants of the best course of action under the new deferment rules.

Yet another problem may arise for illegal immigrants who don’t have birth certificates or school records to prove their age or approximate date of entry into the United States.

Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said DHS and ICE will likely look first to school or medical records for evidence of their living in and coming to the country.

But if they have lived off the grid and don’t have either of those records, “then they can go to secondary evidence, which isn’t considered as strong as things like a birth certificate or school records.”

Immigration officers may also begin accepting sworn affidavits from people, such as teachers or neighbors, who know the eligible illegal immigrants, which would reduce the risk of an illegal parent exposing their status in the deferment process for their child.

“Each person’s going to have to put together what they can,” said Williams. “It’s really going to be up to each individual to document what they can.”