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Relief for Young Undocumented Immigrants Starts Today

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Today is the first day that more than a million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children can ask for a reprieve from federal immigration officials under the Obama administration's deferred action policy.

That policy—announced in June—will offer relief from deportation and the possibility of work authorization to eligible undocumented immigrants who are younger than 31 and who came to the U.S. before they were 16 years old. The electronic forms to apply are on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Numerous immigration rights groups and advocates around the country are hosting events and legal clinics for those undocumented youth who want to be among the first to submit their applications. Here in Washington, United We Dream, a national network of undocumented youth pushing for immigration policy changes, will unveil what it calls a "support system" for undocumented youth who want to apply for deferred action.

The deferred action policy essentially bypassed Congress to implement portions of the DREAM Act, but falls well short of the path to citizenship that bill would provide.

There is little doubt that educators will be tapped for advice and information from undocumented students who want to apply or who are weighing whether to apply. The best resource I've found that directly targets educators who work with immigrant kids—both in K-12 and higher education—is Educators for Fair Consideration, or E4FC, based in San Francisco.

I asked Katharine Gin, a co-founder and executive director of E4FC, and Krsna Avila, the legal services manager, what educators can do when students ask for their help or advice on applying for deferred action.

First, Ms. Gin said, educators should get their hands on reliable information about the policy and the basic rules of eligibility, provide that to students who inquire, and point them to further resources that could answer more questions. The E4FC website is packed with information and links, including a very useful summary on who is eligible.

Educators can also walk students through the basic eligibility criteria such as explaining that they had to be younger than 16 when they were brought to the U.S. Then, Ms. Gin said, educators should refer students to a legal services provider.

"Most educators don't have legal backgrounds and students are not necessarily going to be comfortable discussing things like a criminal record if they have one," she said. Among the eligibility criteria is that applicants must not have been convicted of a felony, a "significant misdemeanor," three or more other misdemeanors, or do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Mr. Avila said educators could draw from two trusted resources for legal provider referrals for students: www.immigrationlawhelp.org, a database of all the nonprofit immigration legal services providers around the nation, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which lists private attorneys.

For teachers or counselors who may suspect that a student is undocumented and may be eligible for deferred action, Ms. Gin recommended that they make resources widely available—keeping information in classrooms, for example—so that youth who want the information but don't want to disclose their immigration status to a staff member can get it easily. "Announcing to all students that this information is available for them or friends and family members," is another approach, she said.

For those staff members who have been confidantes to students about their undocumented status, Ms. Gin said they can be more direct in telling them about deferred action.

Still, she cautioned against educators directly telling students to apply.

"We don't recommend that educators say to a student 'you should apply for this,'" she said. "We would suggest that they say something like 'you might investigate this.'"

Ms. Gin said there are many other ways educators can support undocumented students and offers this very thorough "Top 10" list.

School officials are going to be critical participants in the deferred action process, Ms. Gin noted, because of the extensive documentation that applicants will need to demonstrate eligibility. Among the basic criteria for applicants is proof that they are currently enrolled in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, or have obtained a GED.

Photo: Hundreds of undocumented immigrants waited in line outside the Mexican Consulate in Houston on Tuesday to get passports and other records so they could begin applying to be eligible to work legally in the United States.—Nick de la Torre/Houston Chronicle/AP

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