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Immigration Officials Advise Educators on Deferred Action

School records will be among the key documents that young undocumented immigrants must submit in their requests for deferred action, the new immigration policy that allows individuals who arrived in the United States as children to seek relief from deportation and gain work permits.

Applicants have to demonstrate, among other criteria, that they are currently enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, or have obtained a GED. But school records will also help many potential beneficiaries prove another key qualification: continuous presence in the U.S. for the last five years. A high school transcript documenting four years of schooling would be "fantastic evidence in a single document."

That's what Department of Homeland Security officials advised—among among many other things—on a conference call Tuesday with educators who raised a range of questions about the role they will play in providing information and supporting students' deferred action requests.

Educators wanted to know how "official" school records must be. The answer, said DHS officials, is that there is no fixed requirement for what form the school records must take; what matters is content. The key pieces of information on those documents are the student's name, the time period that the document covers, and evidence of coursework that was completed. DHS officials said that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency—which is handling the reviews of all deferred action requests—is prepared to accept any documents that schools provide to applicants.

One school official asked how applicants could prove they had been present in the U.S. during summer months, or school breaks, particularly in cases where they would be relying on education documents to demonstrate continuous presence for five years. DHS officials said there was no requirement that applicants must prove that any given day or summer must be accounted for and that the agency would bear in mind that schools do have breaks.

Another top question from educators was whether students whose deferred action requests are approved will be eligible to receive federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, or to participate in federal work-study programs. The answer: A firm no.

Deferred action does only two things, DHS officials said: It removes the potential for deportation for at least two years, and opens up the possibility for obtaining work authorization. There are no other benefits.

Several people pushed DHS for clarification on whether an applicant would be flagged for fraud if they had, for example, previously obtained a driver's license using someone else's name or an incorrect address. Acknowledging that obtaining driver's licenses or using a false Social Security number is a not-uncommon practice among undocumented immigrants, DHS officials said that those sorts of scenarios would have to be considered case by case, but generally would not fall under the agency's enforcement priorities. But deliberately withholding information about a taking a trip abroad, for example, would likely be seen as an attempt to mislead immigration official in order to receive deferred action, DHS officials said.

Questions arose about the burdensome nature of gathering school records for youth who have been highly mobile, particular children in migrant farmworker programs. DHS officials said they would be sensitive to that circumstance and suggested that other documents, such as medical records, might be more useful for migrant families for proving the 5-year residency requirement. One of the callers suggested that a national database that collects information on migrant student programs could be a central place for such families to request records.

Applicants who are taking part in career training or literacy programs, such as adult ESL classes, would meet the qualification of being currently enrolled in school, so long as the programs are recipients of federal grant funding, such as through the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, or the Perkins Act.

Some school districts have already taken steps to streamline the document request process for deferred action seekers. The Albuquerque district will turn over requested records within 15 days of an applicant's request, said spokesman Rigo Chavez, whose office is coordinating the quick turnaround. Los Angeles Unified has a blurb on its homepage announcing it will provide support and verification to undocumented youth. And in San Diego, school district leaders will open up a one-stop shop for applicants and their parents to obtain records they need to apply for deferred action.

For more information on how to advise and support students who might benefit from deferred action, check out this earlier post on Educators 4 Fair Consideration, a nonprofit group founded by teachers as a resource for educators who work with immigrant kids.

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