Youth Radio: Durham Area Youth Trying 'Deferred Action' Immigration Policy

Sep 24, 2014

Lili Morales was a teen reporter at WUNC during the summer of 2014.

Lili Morales is a senior at Northern High School in Durham, N.C. As a part of WUNC's Youth Radio Project, she reports on the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.  Young people who entered the country illegally with their parents are eligible for the program if they are in school -- but they have to renew every two years.  It's a stressful process for some.

President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was enacted on June 15, 2012. The policy grants young people a conditional reprieve from deportation proceedings under certain circumstances. If you were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012 and came to the U.S. before you were 16 years old, you are eligible to apply provided that you're in school, and haven't committed a crime. The fee to request consideration is $465, and the paperwork must be renewed every two years.

Alan Garcia is in the process of applying for Deferred Action. On a recent day, he was in the parking lot of the immigration office in Durham. Garcia was pretty far along in the process. He had provided documentation saying how long he'd been in the country, and that he was enrolled in school to be a nursing assistant.

He was there for his "biometric services" appointment, which is a fancy name for fingerprints and photographs. Garcia said that he was so nervous he had arrived an hour early and waited in his car. 

Going through the Deferred Action process is a stressful time for a young person and his/her family. When you apply for Deferred Action, you are agreeing to open yourself and your family up to background checks. You're coming forward and saying, "We entered this country illegally."

Rishi Oza is an immigration attorney.

'I think of the Deferred Action kind of like it is a Band-Aid. It patches you up for two years.'

"I think of the Deferred Action kind of like, it's a Band-Aid," Oza says.

"It patches you up for two years. People want to be productive. It's a program that allows people at least temporarily to kind of get on their feet and be able to achieve the things they want to achieve." 

One person who's really making the most of the policy is Melissa Mynto. She came to the U.S. from Jamaica when she was 10 years old and she is a freshman at Meredith College. She wants to major in math and biology and minor in psychology.

She asked us not to talk about how her family came to the country or really to talk about her family at all. 

So many of the people I talked to for this story didn't want to talk to me. They were scared about drawing attention to themselves.

"What if something is wrong?," ask Mynto. "What if they find me and decide to deport me and my family?"

Melissa is safe for now, but attorney Rishi Oza says it's really important to understand that Deferred Action is a presidential policy and not a law.

"Just as it was implemented by the president back in 2012, it could just...it could go away," said Oza.

Federal statistics say that more the half a million young people received Deferred Action through April 2014. Many, like Melyssa Mynto, will need to reapply in the coming months.