Wind of the Spirit Volunteers Shed Light on Hot Topic

The clock was ticking loudly for Cinthia Osorio, its hands moving forward to a deadline she dreaded.

As that deadline – March 5, 2018 – loomed, she felt “stuck,” unsure if she would ever reach the goals that were right within her grasp: college graduation, a guaranteed professional position in her chosen field afterward, paying off loans, achieving the “American Dream.”

She recalled for the audience attending a recent meeting of the Jefferson Township Democratic Club that she had felt “stuck” once before. It was when, as a jubilant teen, she asked her mom for her birth certificate, so she could apply for a driver’s license. That was her American Dream at the time – a driver’s license.

But she didn’t have a valid birth certificate, she was told for the first time in her life. So there she was, stuck in the middle of a dream.

And then came DACA.

Osorio, who arrived in the United States from Mexico in 1998 as a toddler, is a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides “a level of amnesty to certain undocumented immigrants.”

Fortunately, after she recounted her story during the Jefferson Township Democratic Club meeting, the clock stopped ticking – for now – thanks to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday, the court declined a White House request that the justices immediately decide on whether the Trump administration can end the program. Late last year, the president had set March 5, this coming Monday, as the deadline for Congress to determine the status of DACA, declaring that the program was devised unlawfully.

Osorio and some 700,000 other DACA recipients – often called “DREAMers” – probably breathed a collective sigh of relief following the court’s decision, likely comforted that they would not be deported in the foreseeable future. They could continue on the road to achieve their goals.

Common Immigration Misconceptions

During the club’s program, Osorio and immigration lawyer Karol Ruiz shed light on the country’s immigration hot topic, dispelling some common misconceptions about DACA, the Dream Act, and immigration in general, legal as well as illegal.

The two women, both volunteers at the Morristown-based Wind of the Spirit Immigration Resource Center, outlined some of the “myths” regarding the path to legal and permanent residency in the U.S.

“It’s not so easy,” Osorio and Ruiz told the audience. The gates are not wide open, with immigrants legally coming into the U.S. without having solid reasons and background checks, The Jefferson Chronicle learned.

Seeking Asylum/Refugee Status: In order for a person to be granted asylum or status as a refugee, the U.S. must recognize a person’s homeland as being a danger to that person. As of 2016, the top countries from which the U.S. would grant asylum included China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Nepal, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea. In every case, the person seeking asylum must prove fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In addition, that person must apply within the first year of U.S. entry.

Green Card: Application for a green card, which gives a person permanent U.S. residency based on a specific labor or professional skill, requires an enormous amount of proof and paperwork, and can take up to 10 years to receive.

Marriage: An immigrant cannot automatically become a U.S. citizen simply by marrying an American citizen. The person must have first received approval for permanent U.S. residency in order to marry, and then have been married for at least three years, to become naturalized. In addition, the person must be at least 18 years old.

The Dream Act: An acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, this legislation was meant to be a pathway to legal status for specific alien minors who were brought to the U.S. as children and went to school here. Conceived in 2001, the legislation still has not successfully passed through Congress, even after many revisions. DACA recipients are often labeled DREAMers.

Understanding DACA

Osorio and Ruiz explained to the audience at the club meeting that DACA is not a path to U.S. citizenship, nor does it currently provide permanent lawful status in the United States. And, contrary to some widely held misconceptions, DACA status does not qualify its recipients for special privileges.

Recipients, for example:

  • are not eligible for federal welfare,
  • are not qualified to receive student aid,
  • are not eligible for any social services, and
  • do not receive health care unless they pay for it through their employer.

To qualify for DACA, recipients must:

  • have entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday and prior to June 2007,
  • be currently in school, be a high school graduate, or be honorably discharged from the military,
  • never have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three other misdemeanors, and
  • not pose a threat to national security.

When applying for DACA, prospective recipients are required to register their address and other vital information, and pay an Application for Employment Authorization fee, which must be renewed every two years. In addition, a fee for biometrics – fingerprints and photo – must be paid along with the application. Two years ago, the total application fee was set at $495.

After receiving DACA approval, recipients are legally free to work in the United States and pursue the legendary American Dream…at least for now.

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Maria Weiskott is a Jefferson Township resident and a forty year veteran of the publishing profession. An award-winning journalist and editor, she served in top managerial positions at numerous business-to- business newspapers and magazines including Reed Elsevier and Fairchild Publications. Early in her career she operated a local newspaper in the Passaic Valley towns of Little Falls, Totowa and the former West Paterson. Following retirement, she launched a “ghostblogging” service that provides social networking update and blogging services for small and medium sized businesses. Maria travels widely with her husband and is a passionate photographer. She can be reached at maria.weiskott@thejeffersonchronicle.com.

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