Undocumented life: Many young undocumented immigrants don't qualify for 'deferred action'

Karla was born in Mexico City. She was brought to Chicago when she was 6 years old and now is 20. She went to school in Chicago. By all accounts, she would be eligible for the Dream Act, if it passes, and it seems she would qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

But she didn’t line up at Navy Pier along with thousands of young undocumented immigrants last week.

“I was hoping I would be able to apply for this type of status, but I don’t qualify,” said the single mother of two. She refused to give her name out of fear of deportation.  “I’m worried because I have kids who depend on me.”

Many students were excited after President Barack Obama announced his “deferred action” temporary status, where undocumented youth can apply for a worker permit, social security and in some states, a driver’s license. But there are many undocumented immigrants who don’t qualify because they aged out or have a misdemeanor.

Karla’s case is unique. On the day Obama made the announcement in June, she had another form of temporary protected status. Her mother was awarded a U Visa, which is given to victims of crimes. Her mom had been a victim of domestic violence and Karla was given temporary status through the U Visa application as a "derivative.” But she’s turning 21 in December and will no longer qualify for the “derivative.” Because she had a temporary status the day of the announcement, she doesn’t qualify for deferred action.

And she’s not alone, said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, the director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Undocumented youth who were brought to this country after their 16th birthday don’t qualify neither do undocumented immigrants who committed a what immigration officials label as a “significant misdemeanor,” Ruiz-Velasco said.

“Not everyone should apply,” she said, adding that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can issue orders of deportation to those who don’t qualify.

Ruiz-Velasco said she advises students who have any criminal convictions to seek legal advice before applying for deferred action to avoid being placed in deportation proceedings.

Karlas said immigrants like her, who were brought to this country as a child, should be allowed to stay here, adding that they are just as American as their peers.

“I always knew that I was undocumented and I knew that I wasn’t going to college,” she said. “Even if I paid all that money for school, I knew that I would never be able to get a job. So that was a big no for me.”

Karla got pregnant when she was 16 and dropped out of high school during her second year. She said she wants to obtain her legal status so that she can find a better job and support her 3-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son. She’s working on getting her GED and eventually going back to school, she said.

“I was born in Mexico but I grew up here,” she said. “I want to stay here.”

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