Nicole Añonuevo was 6 years old when her parents moved from Malaysia to the United States, where she went to the best schools in the area. Her parents owned two laundromats and a massage therapy business in North Texas.
But around the beginning of the economic downturn six years ago, her parents lost everything, Añonuevo said. Because they did not have a source of income, they also lost the visa they needed to renew every two years in order to work legally in the United States. She said she and her parents decided to stay in the country, since they did not know where else to go.
“I did not know I had lost my immigration status until one day when I went to the department of motor vehicles to renew my license. I was 17,” she said.
Añonuevo, originally from the Philippines, said the attendant at the department was mean to her and kicked her out after learning she could not prove her immigration status.
“I am glad this happened to me because it humbled me, and I can see from both sides now,” Nicole said. “I came from a good educational background, attended the best schools. Now, I am able to use those tools and abilities toward the movement. That is how I can contribute at this point.”
Nicole, now 21, is a college student. In 2010, she co-founded a student-led movement called North Texas Dream Team that has a mission to educate and bring awareness to immigration issues. The organization focuses on community service, higher education and civic engagement.
On Saturday, Nicole participated in a forum held at the University of North Texas to inform students and faculty about deferred action — a temporary relief program for certain undocumented youth that would allow them to work and study in the U.S. legally. The program would be valid for two years and could be renewed at the end of those two years. The forum was sponsored by North Texas Dream Team and the University of North Texas Latino Faculty and Staff Alliance.
On June 15, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that beginning then, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children could be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings by applying for the deferred action program.
The program is different from the DREAM Act, which would make it possible for undocumented youths to go to college and grant them a “conditional” path to citizenship.
“It is a policy that was enacted. This is not a pathway to citizenship. Only Congress can provide that pathway to citizenship or the president could decide to provide amnesty to the undocumented population,” Añonuevo said about the limitations of the deferred action program. “It can be taken away at any time, at the agency’s discretion.”
Napolitano provided the department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with 60 days from June 15 to create a process by which it would accept deferred action requests.
According to the Immigration Law Center, if any undocumented youths were to apply now, the application would be rejected, since the guidelines have not been established. The application guidelines will be announced Wednesday, and the application itself will be made available Aug. 15, Nicole said.
During the informational forum, Isaul Verdin, an immigration attorney from Dallas, answered questions about the program.
He said there were still many unknowns to the Obama administration’s deferred action, but that does not mean that interested youths should be discouraged from applying.
“It is an opportunity for you to get your work permit, your Social [Security] and potentially your driver’s license,” Verdin said. “Take advantage of it while it is being offered.”
Some of the unknowns include whether undocumented youths would get driver’s licenses, can pay in-state tuition or what guidelines they would have to follow if they are in deportation proceedings and can still apply.
In Texas, only a U.S. citizen or those who have lawful presence can apply for a driver’s license, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety website.
To date, the deferred program’s guidelines state that individuals need to be between 15 and 30 years of age, and they must not have been convicted of a significant misdemeanor offense or multiple offenses. They must also provide verifiable documentation once they apply.
Verdin said the program is only for undocumented youths, and not for their undocumented parents. Also, what counts as a misdemeanor offense has yet to be defined, Añonuevo said.
“Whatever you do, do not get in trouble,” Verdin told the students in the forum.
There is cost involved as well, as with any immigration application. A deferred action application fee has yet to be announced, but it could be about $460 dollars, Verdin said. Additional costs also include a $380 fee for the employment authorization application and $85 for biometrics or fingerprints.
“I guess I have to start saving up,” said a UNT student.
Mariela Nuñez-Janes, associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Texas, said the forum helped answer many pending questions and that all students, regardless of their status, needed to be informed about the program.
“For the students that don’t need it, they should also be aware of this because it could affect someone who sits next to them in class or their neighbor or someone who went to school a long time ago, and they can have the information and share it with others,” she said.
Marco Malagon, another co-founder of the North Texas Dream Team, said he is not eligible for the deferred program, but he will still make sure others are informed.
“What we are doing right now is going to our [Latino] communities as much as we can and telling them about it,” he said. “We also bring lawyers who can answer their questions. By us doing that, we are preventing a lot of scammers from ripping off our community.”
He said members of the Latino community are often scammed and asked to pay thousands of dollars to fill out false immigration papers.
“We already have cases like that, including by lawyers who say their application is in process,” he said. “We watch their moves, and we give them a call to tell them to stop doing that.”
North Texas Dream Team has close to 40 members and a roster of 110 supporters who are working to fulfill their mission. The organization is an affiliate of the Texas Dream Alliance, which encourages immigrant students to empower and educate themselves about immigration, according to its Facebook page.
North Texas Dream Team also networks with United We Dream, a national network of youth-led immigration organizations that inform undocumented youth about the issues affecting them.
The Pew Hispanic Center and Urban Institute said 65,000 undocumented youth graduate high schools each year. Of those, between 5 percent and 10 percent pursue higher education.
Malagon, 30, is studying business and biology at University of Texas at Dallas. He came to the U.S. when he was 17, making him ineligible for deferred action.
“But that does not stop me from helping achieve someone else’s dream,” he said.
KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .