'Own The Dream' To Aid The Young And Undocumented

The Obama administration has released guidelines outlining which young undocumented immigrants may be eligible to defer deportation. Host Michel Martin speaks with Cristina Jimenez, the managing director of the United We Dream Network. She talks about the group's "Own the Dream" campaign, which aims to help these young people navigate the application process.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, many of us have been reveling in the accomplishments of Team USA's swimmers during this Olympics, but today we are going to hear from a former competitive swimmer who has a cautionary tale about her former coach, a prominent one in her hometown and nationally, who she says violated her trust. Former swimmer Kelly Curran will tell us her story in a few minutes.

But first, we are going to talk about an effort to help young undocumented immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security will begin accepting applications later this month for what it's calling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Process. That is the Obama administration's policy to adjust the status of people who are brought to this country as children but without legal authorization.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that as many as 1.4 million people could benefit from this policy, but anticipating that dealing with any legal procedure, but especially one of this magnitude, can be daunting, a coalition of immigrants' rights groups is mobilizing to provide guidance. Their campaign is called Own The Dream and it launches tomorrow.

Joining us to tell us more about this is Cristina Jimenez. She is the managing director of the United We Dream Network. That's the organization behind this effort. She's here with me in Washington, D.C.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

CRISTINA JIMENEZ: How are you? Thanks for having me here.

MARTIN: What are you hoping to happen as a result of this campaign of outreach? Are you hoping that all 1.4 million people who might be eligible under this policy will have their documents ready to go by...

JIMENEZ: Yes.

MARTIN: ...August 15th?

JIMENEZ: Yes. That's...

MARTIN: Really?

JIMENEZ: That's our goal. Our goal is two-folded. One, we want to provide the most accurate information to the community, Dreamers and their parents, undocumented young people and the community, about the process, to know their eligibility, the documents that they will need so that they are prepared for August 15 when the Department of Homeland Security will be opening the application process.

And two, it's that we want to provide tools like websites where young people will be able to find out if they are eligible for this policy, for this relief, and would also be able to apply. And we will be having several events across the country that will bring together different organizations, including legal services organizations, that will have pro bono attorneys onsite so that they can provide legal counsel to Dreamers and parents.

MARTIN: Is there anyone you are recommending not seek a work permit or participate in this process?

JIMENEZ: We are recommending all of the undocumented young people to find legal counsel and find information to figure out, first, if they're eligible. One of the things that we want to highlight is that for young people who are undocumented and may qualify with all of the requirements, with the exception of having a criminal history, they'll definitely - must have legal counsel, meet with an attorney and figure out if the legal - the background that they have with any criminal activity will prevent them from applying for (unintelligible) because that would definitely put them on deportation proceedings, and that's what we want to avoid.

MARTIN: One question I had - and I wonder with other - other people are asking this as well, some of the people who are seeking guidance through your organization - what do you say to young people or parents, for example, who may be living adequately under the radar, as it were, even despite this ambiguous status or being out of status, who worry that, you know, this is an election year and that there may be a change in administration who may not agree with this policy and that they have presented themselves to the government as being out of status.

Are they worried that then they will then be a target for deportation if there's a policy change?

JIMENEZ: Our main focus is to really provide the information to the community so that they're able to figure out whether they're eligible or not. What we are ensuring is that, if you have a criminal background - again, checking with an attorney because that will definitely save you any deportation...

MARTIN: But what if you don't? What I'm saying - you don't. I mean, this policy - this policy applies to those in removal proceedings, those with final orders, those who've never been in removal proceedings. All of those people are able to affirmatively request consideration of deferred action.

Now, I mean let's just set aside - you know, of course, there's an argument that if you're here out of status, you are a criminal, so there is that argument, but that is not what we're talking about here. Right? We're talking about people whose only violation of the law is an immigration violation. Correct?

JIMENEZ: Correct.

MARTIN: OK. So what I'm...

JIMENEZ: Yes.

MARTIN: ...asking you is, if people come forward and present these applications, are people worried that if there's a change in administration, that they will then be - they will have outed themselves as being here out of status.

JIMENEZ: We have actually heard this concern in the community. We've held more than 200 community forums and there is that question. Am I putting myself at risk? And the two things that we have worked on with the administration really closely is to ensure that once a person applies, that all of the information is kept confidential, and the administration on Friday, in the recent guidelines, has assured that unless there is criminal activity, the information will remain confidential. So it would not be shared with other branches of the Department of Homeland Security, which is good news.

At the same time, we know that there are going to be cases that may be denied and we know that there is still going to be that fear, so our effort is - our campaign, Own The Dream, is to really share with the community, Dreamers and undocumented young people, have been working for the past 10 years to get some sort of relief from the administration.

President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security did not come up with this policy out of the blue. We have been working for many years, organizing, and this is a victory that we need to really nurture and really celebrate and get the community to apply for it and to benefit.

And you know, just a quick, short thing. My brother is undocumented and he graduated from high school. Has he had a comfortable life because we live in New York and it's an immigrant-friendly state? Yes. But actually having deferred action would allow him to get an I.D., would allow him to be able to find a job and would allow him to go to college. So it changes the life of students dramatically.

MARTIN: We really don't have time to get into this question, unfortunately, but there are those - I just think I would be remiss if I did not say that there are those who still object to this policy and feel that this is, effectively, a pass for breaking the law. And I assume that you'll be responding to that, you know, at some point as this policy continues.

So thank you so much for coming. Cristina Jimenez is the managing director of the United We Dream Network and she was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Cristina, thank you.

JIMENEZ: Thank you for having me.

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