Immigration experts: New U.S. policy could backfire on some, lead to deportation

Requirements to be considered under new immigration policy:

■ Under age 16 when came to U.S.

■ Has already resided in U.S. continuously for at least five years already

■ In school, a high school graduate, obtained GED or honorably discharged

■ Not been convicted of a serious crime; doesn’t pose threat to national security

■ Not older than 30

Source: Department of Homeland Security

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— Young undocumented immigrants who want to apply under a new federal policy for a reprieve from deportation could be inadvertently turning themselves in to authorities for deportation if they are deemed ineligible, several immigration experts are warning.

"You don't want to go to a zoo if a cage door is open, because it can bite back. And you don't want to walk into the maw of a federal agency if you have a history," Casey Wolff, an immigration attorney in Collier County, said of illegal immigrants who may meet other qualifications for Deferred Action, but have been arrested.

Wolff and other local immigration specialists said the program still is too new to understand if it will take a twist and work against applicants and their families under certain circumstances.

They have tried to temper the excitement of young would-be applicants. The over-arching message if you think you might not make the cut is "Don't apply yet."

Samuel Blanco, an immigration attorney with an office in East Naples, said this skepticism comes from immigration enforcement programs like Secure Communities, which originally was framed as a way to identify high-priority deportees like violent criminals, but yawned much wider and resulted in low-priority deportations nationwide.

The deferred action policy, also known as DACA, went into effect Aug. 15. It expands the previous deferred action program, allowing for undocumented youth under the age of 31 to apply for a renewable two-year temporary reprieve of deportation proceedings under certain conditions.

Details emerged between the June 15 announcement by the Department of Homeland Security and when the policy went into effect last week, with the agency elaborating on what type of criminal background could compromise eligibility.

Undocumented immigrants who arrived as children but have felony, "significant" misdemeanor (including DUIs and domestic violence, but excluding minor traffic offenses), or multiple misdemeanor convictions are ineligible for deferred action, except under "exceptional circumstances," according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Blanco, Wolff and an immigration specialist from Catholic Charities of Collier County said they are advising clients with an arrest record to proceed carefully before turning over to the federal government the application, $465 fee, and evidence documenting their life in the U.S. for the past five years.

The supporting documents to prove eligibility and identity could include passports, birth certificates, school transcripts, and medical, financial and military records.

"Unless you believe you have a very simple, straightforward case with no complications ... get legal advice," Blanco said. "Don't apply first. Don't be the guinea pig."

It's a concern U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services tries to address in a question-and-answer section on its website.

The agency states: "If your case does not involve a criminal offense, fraud, or a threat to national security or public safety, your case will not be referred to ICE for purposes of removal proceedings except where DHS determines there are exceptional circumstances."

It also notes that if the agency doesn't approve deferred action in someone's case, it will apply its policy regarding the referral of cases to ICE and take into account if the applicant falls under a 2011 Citizenship and Immigration memo that outlines policies and the issuance of Notices to Appear, which are charging documents that initiate removal proceedings.

"We really don't know what's going to happen to these folks once some of them start getting denied," said Blanco, who along with Wolff reported that the majority of calls to their practices regarding the deferred action policy were from Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans.

In central California, one group has been warning farmworkers and their children not to sign up for the program at all.

"Immigration agents could haul them off that same day," said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League. "Even if they don't, if this policy is disbanded, now ICE has the addresses of all the families. Why would you want to squeal on your parents?"

Laura Lichter, a Denver attorney who heads the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said everyone takes a risk by applying.

"I would say that people are between a rock and a hard place. In most cases, people can take (the government) at their word that their intent is to administer this policy in a fair and appropriate manner but there are going to be people that are going to find themselves having problems," she said.

__ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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