Coming out of the shadows

Posted on 21 Sep 2012 at 9:15am

Obama’s new DREAMer policy offers a lifeline to undocumented LGBT immigrants — who can’t get married — but applicants like Lucy from Oak Cliff say they won’t give up until they have permanent status

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­CLIFF DWELLER | Oak Cliff is the only place 21-year-old Lucy has ever called home, although she does recall coming from Mexico at 6. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Although she was only 6, Lucy vividly remembers the trip to Dallas, which took more than a week.

Lucy, her sister and her mother headed north from Mexico City across the desert to a point between Nuevo Laredo and Juarez.

She remembers her mother, who was unable to swim, being afraid to ply the river, but a man guided them. Lucy floated the Rio Grande on an inner tube.

Once in the U.S., they continued through the desert to a road where her uncle picked them up and drove them to Dallas.

Now 21, Lucy graduated from Townview high school and now attends Mountain View College.

Lucy, who asked that her surname be withheld, proudly wears a T-shirt that reads, “Queer, undocumented, unafraid and unashamed.”

The same year Lucy arrived in Oak Cliff with her mother, Alejandro left his home in Monterrey with his parents. Alejandro spoke to Dallas Voice on the condition that his identity be protected.

He said that it isn’t a coincidence he and Lucy arrived in Dallas the same year. An economic downturn in Mexico in the late ’90s made it difficult to find work.

His family headed to Dallas by bus to visit relatives. When he crossed the border into Texas, his passport was stamped.

His family remained in Dallas and Alejandro, who was 14 at the time, enrolled in school. After high school, he graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington. He teaches language at a Mid-Cities private school.

What Lucy and Alejandro have in common is they’re both undocumented, both gay and both qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a memo issued by Homeland Security in June that can lead to Employment Authorization Documents.

President Barack Obama announced the new interpretation of a policy that undocumented immigrants under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012, who came to the U.S. when they were 16 or younger, can apply for a two-year deferred action and receive documents allowing them to work and get other papers like drivers licenses.

“The overall feeling is, ‘We can come out of the shadows now,’” said Arcelia Hurtado, deputy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

Lucy submitted her application on Aug. 16, the day after the program began. Alejandro is still weighing his options.

Lucy said gathering the documents was daunting, but she is a pack-rat and kept report cards, medical records and other documents needed to prove residence.

“My mom said, ‘You don’t have any ID, so keep everything that has your name on it to prove who you are,’” Lucy said.

Alejandro said retaining those types of documents is part of “immigrant culture.”

“We’re always waiting for amnesty, so keep everything to prove who you are,” he said.

The process requires the applicant to prove physically being in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and living permanently in the U.S. for the previous five consecutive years after entering either without inspection, as Lucy did, or with immigration status expiring, as Alejandro did.

Both Alejandro and Lucy can prove they were in the U.S. on June 15.

“I had a Greyhound ticket from that day,” Lucy said.

Alejandro had a written statement notarized.

Applicants must also be enrolled in school, graduated high school, obtained a GED certificate or have an honorable military discharge. They must not be convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors or be a threat to national security.

A week after she applied, Lucy received confirmation that her application had been received. Earlier this week she had her “biometrics appointment.”

The biometrics appointment is to take fingerprints and begin an FBI investigation. Those who pass should be issued their EAD work permit and two years of deferred action. The first ones were issued last week. Those who do not pass may be referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.

And that’s why Alejandro is waiting and weighing his options.

“If they find fraud,” he said, “we’ll be referred to ICE and be deported.”

He worries about his employment history being used against him.

“If someone has employment records with a fake social security number, is the person committing fraud?” he wondered.

But NCLR’s Hurtado said the application doesn’t require that type of information.

“There’s some recognition that may or may not have been happening,” she said.

Alejandro said he was waiting to see how other cases are handled. If those issues are resolved, he may apply later. And, he said, his situation is a little difference from Lucy’s.

Alejandro is in a bi-national relationship. He said he’s waiting to see if one of the cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act will be heard by the Supreme Court this session.

He said if DOMA is declared unconstitutional, he and his partner would marry in a state where it’s legal, and he could obtain a green card the way most undocumented heterosexuals do.

There’s no deadline to apply under DACA. And Alejandro said he’s secure in his job and doesn’t want to be a test case.

But because so many heterosexuals receive documentation through marriage, DACA disproportionately helps young gay and lesbian immigrants.

Immigration Equality spokesman Steve Ralls said his organization’s estimate is that tens of thousands of LGBT youth are eligible.

“For many LGBT youth, there’s a concern about coming forward and identifying themselves to the government,” Ralls said, “especially if they come from a country where being out wouldn’t lead to a good outcome.”

He called that a roadblock to some from taking advantage of the program.

But he said that the Department of Homeland Security has done a good job of streamlining the process, and he gave special praise to Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Ralls said many of the people calling his organization for assistance are wondering how their families would be affected.

“Parents won’t be targeted,” he said.

Ralls said the biggest fear he’s heard is about what would happen if Obama is not re-elected and the program is cancelled.

“There’s concern because Romney had not said what he would do on immigration broadly or on this policy specifically,” Ralls said.

Hurtado said it would be hard for a new administration to go back on a promise made once documents are issued.

Cost is another barrier to applying. The application fee is $465.

“It’s a lot for people who haven’t had work authorization,” Ralls said.

NCLR spearheaded a drive to raise funds to assist those unable to pay. Hurtado said they already have $75,000 and the goal is $100,000 — which would help at least 200 LGBT youth.

In the first month the policy was in effect, about 72,000 people applied for two-year permits. Ralls said if Obama is re-elected, he expects to see another surge in applications.

But someone opposing the policy may eventually be elected.

Ralls said he hopes to see “meaningful immigration reform” over the next few years that would include passage of the Dream Act. That legislation would go beyond DACA and provide a path to citizenship for people like Lucy and Alejandro who are only eligible for documentation for two years.

Hurtado called DACA the first step toward comprehensive immigration reform.

“These Dreamers will have to continue to be active over the next two years,” Hurtado said. “There will be a lot of debate.”

Lucy said she won’t stop until she has permanent status. After all, Oak Cliff’s the only place she’s ever called home.

……………….

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Eligibility
• Under 31 as of June 15, 2012
• Entered U.S. younger than 16
• Continuously resided in U.S. since June 15, 2007 (brief absences for humanitarian reasons allowed)
• Entered U.S. without inspection or immigration status expired before June 15, 2012
• Physically in the U.S. on June 15, 2012
• Currently in school, graduated high school, obtained a GED or honorably discharged from military or Coast Guard
• Have no felony convictions, a significant misdemeanor or more than three misdemeanors
• Are not a threat to national security

Age
• Must have been under 31 on June 15, 2012
• Must be at least 15 at time of application
• Exception: May be under 15 if applicant is in removal proceedings, have a final order of removal or voluntary order of removal

Documents
• Form I-821D: Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
• Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization Document
• Form I-765: WS–EAD Economic need supplement form
• Documents that prove applicant meets age, entry, continuous presence and educational or military requirements
• $465 fee

Legal status
• Deferred action does not grant legal status
• During deferred action, applicant is considered lawfully in the U.S.

Risk
• If deferred action is not granted, removal proceedings may begin against the applicant
• If deferred action is granted, the status is discretionary and may be revoked in the future

Financial aid
Beginning Sept. 21, apply for financial aid to cover the $465 application fee online at
LibertyHill.org/LGBTDreamersFund

Legal help
• Immigration Equality
212-714-2904
ImmigrationEquality.org
• National Center for Lesbian Rights
415-392-6257
NCLRights.org

Source: Immigration Equality

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 21, 2012.

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