Young immigrants defer taking action

More than 13,000 undocumented immigrants gathered at Chicago’s Navy Pier on Aug. 15, the first day to apply for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Photo by Lucio Villa.

More than 13,000 undocumented immigrants gathered at Chicago’s Navy Pier on Aug. 15, the first day to apply for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Photo by Lucio Villa.

The news: In June, President Barack Obama announced that undocumented youth brought to the United States as minors would be able to gain temporary relief from deportation under his deferred action initiative.

Behind the news: In Chicago, 19,702 immigrants are eligible for deferred action, according to an analysis of census data by Rob Paral and Associates, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in immigration issues. Of Chicago’s 77 community areas, South Lawndale had the highest number—2,029—of eligible immigrants, followed by Belmont Cragin’s 1,755, Gage Park’s 1,149 and Brighton Park’s 1,108.

The analysis, which did not factor in criminal background that may disqualify an applicant, found that an additional 6,334 immigrants could meet the eligibility requirements if they received a GED certificate or equivalent education, and another 6,862 immigrants between the ages of 5 and 14 could become eligible once they turn 15.

As of Sept. 13, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it accepted 82,361 applications nationwide but has so far completed processing only 29 of them.

Immigrant advocates said many eligible immigrants may not apply for deferred action, partly due to a concern that their application could end up at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and trigger deportation. But in its memorandum, the Citizenship and Immigration Services makes it clear that the referrals will be made only with selected cases, such as ones that pose concerns over “egregious public safety” or involve serious criminals.

But Monica Trevino, communications director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said some immigrants still feel uneasy about the possible consequences.

“It mostly stems from a fear of the unknown with the election—like what may happen if [Mitt] Romney’s elected, since he would have a different approach,” Trevino said. Immigrants “are afraid that their information will be out there and may be used against them in some respect, and that’s enough reason to be apprehensive.”

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