Since the announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, we at Amoachi and Johnson have repeatedly and sometime stridently stressed the importance of educating young immigrants about alternative forms of permanent immigration relief.
Kirk Semple of the New York Times took the time to listen to us and others regarding this important issue and wrote an excellent article in today’s paper, “Finding a Path To a U.S. Visa, Often by Luck.”
When Angy Rivera, an illegal immigrant, was a young girl in New York City, she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. He was eventually convicted and imprisoned, but only recently did Ms. Rivera find out that her cooperation with investigators had qualified her for a special benefit: a visa for victims of serious crimes.
Many young illegal immigrants across the country have similarly learned in recent months that they could be eligible for little-known visas that would allow them to put years of worrying about deportation behind them, immigration lawyers said.
These discoveries have come about as an unintended consequence of an immigration policy adopted last June by President Obama that allows young illegal immigrants, under certain conditions, to apply for the right to remain in the country temporarily and work.
The policy, called deferred action, has spurred hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to seek legal help, often for the first time in their lives. During these consultations, many have learned that they are eligible for other, more permanent, forms of immigration relief, like special visas for crime victims.
More than a dozen immigration lawyers around the country — from private practice, advocacy organizations and university law clinics — said that as many as a quarter of the young immigrants who have consulted with them about deferred action since last summer appeared to be eligible for visas or other relief.
“This whole time I had been in the system already and no one had said anything to me or my mom,” said Ms. Rivera, 22, who was born in Colombia and entered the United States on false immigration documents when she was 4. “It was out of the blue for me.”
The unexpected visa eligibility for so many young people highlights a defining facet of illegal immigration and of the debate over immigration reform. Many illegal immigrants are so fearful of contact with the authorities, or thwarted by language and economic barriers, that they live in a kind of isolation that often prevents them from taking advantage of opportunities or services to which they are entitled under the law.
It is a measure of this isolation that not even Ms. Rivera knew that she was a candidate for a special visa — even though she is an immigration advocate and writes a popular online advice column for young illegal immigrants.
She found out about her eligibility for the crime-victims visa, called a U visa, only last fall when she met with a lawyer at Atlas: DIY, a nonprofit group in New York City that works with young immigrants.
Her lawyer, Lauren Burke, said advocacy groups and government agencies had not always done an adequate job of informing illegal immigrants about their rights under the nation’s complex immigration laws.
“The onus is on the immigrant for him or her to find out the information,” Ms. Burke said. “But if you say, ‘I need immigration help,’ you are exposing so much about yourself and putting yourself at such risk.”
Deferred action allows recipients to work legally and live openly without fear of deportation. But it must be renewed after two years, and the program could be canceled by President Obama or his successors. As a result, illegal immigrants would generally prefer to obtain a green card or a visa that would open the door to permanent residency…
Read the rest here.