SALT LAKE CITY — Adriana Rodriguez and Carlos Sucuzhanay met at Northwest Middle School, two Salt Lake City kids each with a dream of eventually finding a job to earn the money needed to pay for college.
Wednesday they passed an important signpost together on the road to completing that dream as the two undocumented immigrants, now 19 years old, applied for deferred action status, which would legally delay deportation proceedings.
"I know it is not the Dream Act, it's not what we are fighting for, but it is a step forward," Rodriguez said.
She and others gathered in Salt Lake City Wednesday with the Dream Team, a non-profit group that supports the Dream Act bill, to tell their stories and learn the details of how to apply for deferred status.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, Utah could potentially have 10,000 to 20,000 people eligible for deferred action, a policy put in place at the request of President Barack Obama and implemented by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
More than 1.7 million undocumented immigrants will be eligible to apply for deferment and temporary work permits. Eighty-five percent of the 1.7 million are Hispanic, according to research conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Federal officials began receiving applications Wednesday across the country. Utah applications will be processed in four different state offices, a process that could take several months, with appointments eventually issued to applicants for consideration.
Daisy Magdaleno said she was ecstatic to begin the process of applying for deferred action. The 21-year-old went prior to Aug. 15 to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Salt Lake City to learn of the requirements.
She said she stayed up Wednesday until 3 a.m. sorting out the documents she would need to apply for deferment.
"We already had a packet full of copies, receipts, pay check stubs, anything that we could think of," Magdaleno said. "I have everything photocopied, my application is ready to go."
Jose Arteaga, 22, and Magdaleno are friends at the University of Utah. They met through the Hispanic Student Business Association and are now in a position to earn their degrees and apply for work in their fields.
Arteaga said he received a scholarship to the University of Utah which he has used to study civil engineering.
"I will be able to stay in this country if I want, because I was thinking of going back to Mexico or going to some European country or Australia because I would have had to go somewhere if I can't work here," Arteaga said. "That is the final piece of everything I ever needed, just being able to work."
Magdaleno and Arteaga's excitement was tempered by concerns about the application process.
"We read on the website that if there is something wrong in the application then they won't look at it," she said. "There is no appealing that, it is just done."
They were worried that the officials reviewing their applications could make a mistake, and they would then be unable to gain the legal right to work.
"That makes a lot of people skeptical, 'OK, I have all the requirements now, what are you going to check? Are you having a bad day so you are going to write me off?' Arteaga said, referring to those who will review the cases.
Marc Alvarez, a Salt Lake immigration attorney and Spanish radio talk show host, said the immigration service is trying to avoid such scenarios.
"It is a logical concern for someone to have," he said. "One of the things (Alejandro) Mayorkas said, the director of the United States Citizen Immigration Services, one thing that USCIS is trying to accomplish is consistency in the decisions."
Alvarez said that it is more important to fill the paper work out correctly than to fill it out quickly.
"A person who qualifies August 15 will in theory also qualify December 15 and qualify on August 15, 2013," Alvarez said. "People need to be careful when they fill out the application so they don't put something that is misleading and disqualify them from being able to enjoy deferred action.
"There is not really a right to appeal, this is a prosecutory discretion," Alvarez said. "They either give it to you or they don't and it is limited on what a person can do if he or she is rejected, which means a person should do it right the first time."
Total fees for the application are $465 — $85 for a background check and $380 to apply for Employment Authorization Document.
One person celebrating deferred action this week is David Morales-Pantoja, among the first to benefit from the federal government's change in approach.
The 20-year old was facing possible deportation after he was detained while traveling on a passenger bus Jan. 4, 2011 on his way to Louisiana. He was jailed for 17 days.
After being released he began filming a documentary on buses being pulled over to check for undocumented immigrants. That led to a second arrest by border patrol in Las Cruces, New Mexico on June 21, 2011.
But while his immigration status was under review, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum June 15 urging prosecutorial discretion for those who came to the U.S. undocumented as children.
June 22, 2012 a letter arrived in the mail for Morales-Pantoja, referencing the memorandum:
"Based on my review of the record, and the facts and circumstances presented, I have decided to exercise prosecutorial discretion and defer enforcement action for David Morales-Pantoya," states the letter signed by the field office director for the immigration service.
The letter also stated that such cases are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
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