When President Obama announced June 15 that some undocumented youth would be temporarily relieved from deportation and eventually able to apply for citizenship, immigration reform advocates reacted with shock and elation.
“This news out of the blue was so incredible and so powerful,” said David Ayala-Zamora, co-interim executive director and organizing director of OneAmerica, the nation’s largest immigrant reform group.
Now OneAmerica is trying to connect with the estimated 48,000 undocumented youth in Washington who may be eligible for the program, which is affiliated with the dream (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act first proposed more than a decade ago.
OneAmerica is hosting a series of public town hall meetings from August 2 to 23 in nine cities across the state to educate youth about how the legislation applies to them and how they can sign up for legal help.
Organizers estimate the meetings will draw as many as 5,000 undocumented immigrants (sometimes known as dreamers), but they’re hoping for a higher turnout.
While the Obama administration has yet to release details about who is eligible, Ayala-Zamora said the framework of the legislation includes restrictions related to criminal history, age and the length of time undocumented immigrants have been consecutively living in the states.
The legislation works by taking eligible youth and deferring deportations for a period of two years, subject to renewal, after which they will then be able to apply and work for authorization.
Those eligible still have a long road ahead, at least 11 years, before they can become United States citizens.
While this is a big first step in terms of comprehensive immigration reform, Ayala-Zamora hopes it will also help to address the stigma of being “illegal.”
“A lot of these kids never thought they were undocumented until they tried to go to college or do something their peers were doing,” Ayala-Zamora said. “They found out they were undocumented, and it became a part of their identity.”
OneAmerica’s meetings will be held in Redmond, Federal Way, Ellensburg, Bellingham, Kennewick, Vancouver, Yakima, Sumner and Edmonds.