WASHINGTON — Federal officials have 60 days to prepare for an onslaught of young illegal immigrants eager to apply for "deferred" deportation and work permits under the recently announced Obama administration directive that could affect up to 800,000 people living in the U.S.
Federal discretion on deportation has been allowed before with certain groups of immigrants, such as those too sick to travel or those with bad home-country conditions.
But this new wave of potentially eligible people could number in the tens of
thousands in Colorado alone and will be bigger than immigration offices have
"I think there is a lot of hope and skepticism," said Carmen Medrano, a
community organizer for Together Colorado, an organization that hosted an
informational forum last week about President Barack Obama's directive. More
than 100 people showed up. "There are just so many questions we don't know the
To qualify for deferred action and eventually a work permit under the new policy, applicants must have lived in the U.S. for five years and be between the ages of 16 and 30. They must be enrolled in an American high school or have graduated or received a graduate equivalency diploma. They also must not have a criminal record.
Officials don't anticipate turning anyone away who meets the criteria, although cases are decided on an individual basis. Federal officials also say that families would be protected from scrutiny.
"We have internally set it up so that the parents are not referred for immigration enforcement if the young person comes in for deferred action," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN. "However, the parents are not qualified for deferred action. This is for the young people who meet the criteria that we've set forth."
There are a lot of unknowns that officials say they are trying to work out before people can start the process in mid-August. Such unknowns include figuring out whether potential applicants have to apply in person or whether they can submit proof online.
Immigration lawyers question what constitutes a criminal record: driving
without a license? A car accident? And how do immigrants prove continuous five-year residency — through rental leases or high school report cards?
"We just keep saying at this time we really don't know," Medrano said.
State officials, too, are preparing for a shift because those working under temporary work permits can receive Colorado unemployment insurance if they lose
their job through no fault of their own.
Current law allows payments only for people who were legally working.
"We believe their work permits will have effective start dates and expiration dates, so we would have to determine with each claimant who holds a work permit
at what point were they considered 'lawfully present,' " said Colorado
Department of Labor and Employment spokesman Bill Thoennes.
Read more: Obama
deportation-deferment plan leaves many questions unanswered - The Denver