By: Tony Best
As American federal authorities continue to deport record numbers of illegal immigrants to their birthplaces in the Caribbean and Latin America and elsewhere, they are also offering deferrals to undocumented youthful residents who apply for a suspension of deportation.
The two-track approach to the thorny issue deportation issue, especially the policy of forcing foreign-born residents out of the country for overstaying their allotted time in the U.S. or committing criminal offences, immigration enforcement officials are now processing more than 70,000 applications from young immigrants who are seeking to take advantage of a new Obama Administration initiative that’s designed to allow people who came to the country before they were sixteen years old but who are not over the age of 31 to remain in the U.S. legally, work, get a driver’s license and most of all continue their education.
Thousands of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Jamaica, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua, Haiti and their Caribbean neighbors were among the 391, 000 people deported in 2011. Interestingly, West Indians have joined the list of youthful immigrants seeking deferral of deportation for two years in the first instance with the possibility of receiving additional deferrals in the years ahead.
The U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services agency began accepting deferral applications on August 15th and while it’s not known how many Caribbean youths are seeking to take advantage of the new program, what’s clear is that West Indians are applying in droves and some can receive work permits as early as next month.
Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of the U.S. C.I agency, said that within days of receiving the applications, supporting documents and $465 processing fee, they approved some deferrals and the decisions were based on a preponderance of evidence that supported the applicants’ eligibility.
To be eligible, undocumented immigrants must have entered the U.S. before they were 16 years of age; shouldn’t have celebrated their 31st birthday; must be able to show they lived in the country continuously for five years since June 15, 2007; be currently in school, have earned at least a high school diploma or have been honorably discharged from the military or the U.S. Coast Guard. Just as important, their records must be free of any serious criminal conviction and they shouldn’t have committed a bunch of minor misdemeanor offences or otherwise pose a threat to the country’s national security.
As many as 1.2 million undocumented immigrants are said to be eligible for deferral and the number of application, though lower than anticipated can the estimated target in less than two years.
Immigration attorneys and advocates in New York and other parts of the country have said that many West Indians, like people from Latin America, Europe, Asia and elsewhere are running into problems with their applications because of an inability to collect the necessary documents and mustering the application fee.
Laura Lichter, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that there was considerable interest and enthusiasm for the president’s initiative but “these applications are not something you would be ready to go within one day. They take a fair amount of work and we have to be sure people understand the risks they are taking.”
High on the list of risks applicants face is the possibility that they may expose undocumented family members to scrutiny and possible deportation by the authorities. In addition, if they have committed a criminal offence they may bring it to immigration agency’s attention which is committed to deporting immigrants who have committed serious crimes.
“If somebody submits documents that show by the preponderance of the evidence that they meet the guidelines, we are poised to move the cases as quickly as possible,” Mayorkas explained.
Figures provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement 93 per cent of the 2011 deportations involved people from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. More than 191,000 convicted criminals have been deported so far this year, an increase over last year.