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  1. Young Immigrants Say It’s Obama’s Time to Act By JULIA PRESTON NEW HAVEN — It has been a good year for young immigrants living in the country without legal papers, the ones who call themselves Dreamers. Their protests and pressure helped push President Obama to offer many of them reprieves from deportation. So far about 310,000 youths have emerged from the shadows to apply, with numbers rising rapidly. Door-knocking campaigns led by those immigrants, who could not vote, mobilized many Latinos who could, based in no small part on the popularity of the reprieve program. After Latinos rewarded Mr. Obama with 71 percent of their votes, the president said one of the first items on his agenda next year would be a bill to legalize 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, which would offer a path to citizenship for young people. Behind the political momentum, administration officials and advocates say, is an extensive and surprisingly adroit movement of youthful immigrants. Because of their illegal status, however, they have often been more influential than they have been visible. In the past two years, they pursued their goal of legal recognition through a calibrated strategy of quiet negotiations, public “coming-out” events where youths declared their status, and escalating street protests. Now, movement leaders say, it is payback time. When Congress last debated broad reform, in 2007, populist energy was on the side of those opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants. Angry resistance from Republicans defeated a legalization proposal by President George W. Bush. This time the young immigrants are the rising force, and they seek legislation to give them a direct and permanent path to citizenship. But recalling that Mr. Obama also promised at the start of his first term to move swiftly on immigration overhaul, they say their attitude toward him is wait-and-see. “People are not going to hug the president right now,” said Carlos Saavedra, 26, an immigrant from Peru and national coordinator of United We Dream, the largest network of young immigrants here illegally. “They are waiting for him to take some action.” This weekend, United We Dream will gather more than 600 leaders (most still without legal status) from 30 states at a meeting in Kansas City, Mo., to work out their strategy to keep the heat on the White House and Congress during the coming immigration fight. Even some adversaries acknowledge the youth movement’s successes. “They have framed their story in a very popular way, and they’ve leveraged that story very effectively,” said Roy S. Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a leading group opposing amnesty. There have been other banner moments this year for young people who take their name from the Dream Act, a bill before Congress that would create a formal path to citizenship for young people here illegally who came to this country as children. In June, Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist born in the Philippines, appeared on the cover of Time magazine along with a dozen others without legal status. In August, Benita Veliz, who is from Mexico, spoke at the Democratic National Convention about growing up without legal status. Overcoming Fear The high profile is recent for organizers whose work has often been clandestine. In the early years of the movement, even convening a meeting was a challenge, since so many youths, lacking papers, could not fly or drive without risking deportation. “They put at risk their own safety and being sent back to a country they haven’t seen since they were in diapers,” said Angela Kelley, an advocate and veteran of many immigration wars on Capitol Hill, now at the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington. For many Dream leaders, activism began in the last years of high school, when they realized that their status might prevent them from going to college. Here in New Haven, Lorella Praeli, the director of advocacy for United We Dream, said she was 2 years old when she came from Peru. Her father brought her for medical treatment after her leg was amputated following a car crash. Ms. Praeli attended Quinnipiac University on scholarship, and she graduated last year with honors. Now 24, she said exasperation with Congress’s inaction on the Dream Act propelled her to join the movement. Mr. Saavedra, from Boston, was in high school in 2004 when he joined a campaign for an in-state resident college tuition discount for illegal immigrants in Massachusetts. He said he became a full-time activist after the bill passed the state legislature but was vetoed by the governor, Mitt Romney. Gaby Pacheco, 27, originally from Ecuador, hoped to teach children with autism, but without papers could not be certified. In 2010 she joined a four-month protest walk from her home in Miami to Washington with three other students. In California, Justino Mora, 23 and Mexican-born, was an honors student and track team captain in high school. Because of his status, Mr. Mora said, he had to postpone college studies in aerospace engineering. He joined a California branch of the Dream network. The leaders had another moment of truth when they publicly revealed their illegal status. Ms. Praeli’s moment came before television cameras at a news conference called at the last minute in New Haven in 2010. “I wasn’t prepared and I’m thinking, I haven’t even talked to my mom yet,” she said. Improvising, she recounted her personal story. Soon, she felt relief. “Once you’re out in public,” she said, “there is no hiding, there is no fake narrative. The overwhelming feeling is, I don’t have to worry about being someone I’m not.” The Power of Stories United We Dream was founded in 2009 by local groups that banded together into a national network. The leaders realized that encouraging young people to recount the stories of their lives in hiding and of their thwarted aspirations could be liberating for them, and also compelling for skeptical Americans. Now, in tactical sessions, young immigrants are trained to tell their stories to anyone who will listen, from a voter to a United States senator. Two years ago Dreamer groups began holding coming-out ceremonies where students defied the immigration authorities with signs announcing they were “undocumented and unafraid.” “One of our successes has been that we have created a shared identity about being a Dreamer,” said Cristina Jimenez, 28, who was born in Ecuador and graduated from Queens College in New York and is now the managing director of United We Dream. A turning point for the movement was the lame-duck session of Congress in late 2010. The Dream Act passed the House of Representatives. In the Senate, it failed by five votes. More than 200 immigrants watched from the Senate gallery. “A lot of us stepped out of the gallery and we were crying,” Ms. Praeli said. “And it was like that, I think, for five minutes. And then the attitude just changed.” Many left Washington feeling more determined, she said. Ms. Pacheco said she concluded that day that it was time to shift strategies. The House majority would pass to Republicans, who rejected the Dream Act as a reward to immigrant lawbreakers. The movement would have to concentrate on the president, Ms. Pacheco believed, to press him to stop deportations using executive powers. In a meeting after the vote with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, Ms. Pacheco said she grabbed him and whispered in his ear. “You know the president has the power to stop deporting us,” she said. “You know you could tell him to do this.” Startled, Mr. Reid gave her a hug and walked away. November 30, 2012
  2. As many as 1.76 million unauthorized immigrants could gain temporary relief from deportation and be authorized to work legally in the U.S. under President Barack Obama’s deportation deferral program announced earlier this year, according to the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration think tank. Long lines of young, potential beneficiaries formed in several cities across the country last week when the program’s first applications were issued. The program is open to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16. They must be in high school, have graduated from high school, earned a GED or served honorably in the military, among other criteria. What will the possible flood of new job applicants mean for small business owners? And how should small employers deal with existing employees who present work authorizations along with admissions that they were not previously authorized to work? These questions are likely to arise as applications are processed and work authorization cards issued, says Bill Flynn, an attorney heading the immigration practice at Fowler White Boggs in Tampa. That will be particularly true for companies in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois, home to 57 percent of the total population of potential beneficiaries, three out of four of whom were born in Mexico or Central America, according to the MPI. “A lot of information is yet to be determined as the details of the procedural aspects of the program come out over the next couple of months,” Flynn says. There is also uncertainty around whether the program will move forward if President Obama is not reelected this November and what will happen after the program’s stated two-year deferral period expires. Additionally, how states will handle the program is up in the air: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last week instructed her state to deny driver’s licenses and other state benefits to immigrants who qualify for the program. Nevertheless, attorney Michael Wildes, managing partner at Wildes & Weinberg in Manhattan, is busy prepping his business clients about the program and says a majority of the newly authorized immigrants will likely find work with small businesses in both skilled and unskilled positions. The MPI estimates that 80,000 of the potentially eligible beneficiaries have an associate’s degree or higher, 44 percent have a bachelor’s degree, and 8 percent have advanced degrees. Once they start getting hired, they will present employment authorization document (EAD) cards to verify their employability on the I-9 forms that employers must complete and file. The cards look like driver’s licenses and should be accepted as legitimate documents, similar to green cards or American passports, says Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO, a Ft Lauderdale, Fla.-based company that provides human resources to 50 small and mid-sized business owners. The trickier situation will present itself when existing employees, who may have passed off phony documents, come to their bosses with EAD cards, Starkman says: “That puts employers in a really tough situation that may be damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t.” Some employers will not take kindly to such news and consider the lie grounds for termination, particularly if the employee works in a sensitive position of trust. Others may value the employee enough to overlook the past deception and continue their employment. If an employer chooses to terminate based on the employee’s admission, he should be aware that he could face a potential discrimination claim, Starkman says. “They’re out of work because you fired them, and there are lawyers out there ready to pounce.” The main defense in such a case is documentation that the business owner requires the same standard of honesty from all employees, whether they are “the blonde, blue-eyed secretary born in Ohio or the employee with a Latino surname,” Flynn says. For employers willing to keep an employee who used false documentation, it’s important to keep all paperwork – old and new – in the employee’s file, Flynn says. Immigration authorities have been “very enforcement-oriented” in recent years and audits are “busting people right and left,” he says. To be on the safe side, he instructs clients to prepare a memorandum explaining the situation, documenting the paperwork presented initially, why they believed it to be legitimate, and including the new paperwork and date it was presented. “State that on a certain date, you did the following and you now believe in good faith that you employee is in compliance with federal work authorization rules,” Flynn says. One final detail for employers to note is a confidentiality provision in the law, Starkman says. It’s not yet clear whether that provision applies to both government authorities dealing with applicants as well as employers. To be on the safe side, he’s telling clients not to discuss the immigration status of their employees – period. “’Congratulations to so-and-so who’s just received their papers!’ is not an item for the company newsletter. Keep it in the HR file,” he says. Source: