SALT LAKE CITY — June 15 marked a special day for hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people living in the United States. On that day, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that directed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to stop deportations of those who would be eligible to participate in the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — commonly known as the Dream Act, federal legislation that was proposed, but never approved, by Congress to grant permanent residency to certain undocumented young people. (See box for qualifications.)
Obama’s announcement was welcomed in Salt Lake City with joy as some members of the Latino community gathered in the Centro Civico Mexicano to listen to the announcement.
One of those people was Silvia Salguero, a 29-year-old student and mother of an 8-year-old.
Salguero arrived illegally in the United States from Mexico when she was 13; because of this status she has never been able to get a loan or a scholarship to help pay for her studies.
Wiping away tears as she heard the news, she said, "It’s a miracle. It’s hard to believe."
The president’s action doesn’t grant citizenship or amnesty. Rather, it provides, on a case-by-case basis, a deferral of deportation for two years. Those granted the deferral are eligible to apply for work permits.
Argelia Ruiz is among those who might qualify for this relief. A Catholic who came to the U.S. when she was 9 and graduated from high school this month, she was very sad because she knew she wasn’t going to be able to go to college.
"My mom always taught me to never give up, to always put everything in God’s hands and to keep praying, but having no papers makes my dreams a nightmare," said Ruiz.
As she heard the president’s announcement, she couldn’t believe what was happening, she said. She called her mother, who now lives in Arizona, and with tears in her eyes, said, "Mom, my dream came true. I might have a chance."
A chance, at the moment, is all Ruiz has. Details on the application process had not been released at press time and applicants may have to wait several months before applying.
Nevertheless, the announcement was welcome, said the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, in a statement.
"I think that this is something that is welcome, and I’m very grateful to President Obama and his administration for doing this," the bishop said. "I think it’s a very important decision that will bring relief to a segment of our immigrant community that certainly deserves it."
More needs to be done, however, Bishop Wester said. "I do not want to weaken my gratitude, but at the same time there are other segments of our immigrant communities that continue to suffer and live in the shadows, and they too need to be considered."
At a local level, the Diocese of Salt Lake City will work to help people understand how President Obama’s announcement applies to them, and how they can take advantage of it, Bishop Wester said.
To qualify, youth must:
• Have entered the United States before the age of 16 and have not yet turned 30;
• Have continuously lived in the U.S. for at least five years before June 15, 2012 and were residing in the U.S. on that date;
• Are currently in school, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED, or been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or U.S. armed forces;
• Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more minor misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
• Submit a request for a review of their case and supporting evidence to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. urges those applying for this relief to avoid going to a notario or visa consultant for assistance, and to wait until the application period has opened. Applicants may have to wait several months before applying with USCIS.
For information in English or Spanish, call the USCIS hotline at 1-800-375-5283, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST or visit http://www.uscis.gov.
Individuals who are in removal proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (ICE) may request a review of their case. For information, visit www.ice.gov/about/offices/enforcement-removal-operations/publicadvocate or call 1-888-351-4024, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.
Utah residents may call Catholic Community Services and schedule an appointment with the immigration program, 801-977-9119.