Obama4-21-11.jpgA coalition of immigrant advocates in San Francisco Monday called for more clarity in last week’s new deferred deportation policy announced by President Barack Obama and warned community members to not fall victim to scam artists taking advantage of the uncertainty.

The policy change, announced by Obama on Friday, will provide via “prosecutorial discretion” a two-year deferral of deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, are still 30 years old or younger, and meet other educational and residency qualifications.

The policy will apply to about 800,000 people nationally and allow them to work in the U.S. legally, according to federal officials.

“It is an important and very much needed first step that will have many positive impacts on the youth in our city and throughout the country,” said Annette Wong, a program coordinator for the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN), which organized today’s news conference.

However, members of the coalition noted that the change does not provide a pathway to citizenship for these immigrants, and that there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the new policy.

“There are a lot of questions that we still have,” said Reena Arya, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, who said it is not yet known how people can apply for eligibility under the policy, nor what their fate might be at the end of the two-year term.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials are expected to announce the details of the application process within 60 days, and today created a hotline at (800) 375-5283 to provide more information about the policy.

Laura Melgarejo, a 27-year-old San Francisco State University graduate eligible for the policy, having moved to the U.S. from Mexico at 15, said she is one of many undocumented immigrants waiting for more clarity before moving forward.

“All this uncertainty is what’s making us be a little bit cautious in order to decide, ‘Is this the best opportunity we can get?'” Melgarejo said.

She said advocates have fought for more expansive immigration reform via federal legislation but have so far been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, local immigration law experts are urging community members to not get defrauded by people posing illegally as immigration attorneys and charging for legal advice.

“For individuals who believe they’re eligible, consult with a nonprofit or an experienced immigration attorney,” said Laura Sanchez from the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) in San Francisco. “People should be incredibly cautious.”

Along with free advice that is being offered by CARECEN and the other 12 nonprofits that are part of SFILEN, immigrant advocates are also holding two free legal clinics next month for people who already have immigration court proceedings pending.

The clinics are scheduled for July 14 and July 28 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Golden Gate University, located at 536 Mission St. in San Francisco.

More information about the new policy can be found at USCIS’s website at www.uscis.gov, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s website at www.ice.gov, or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website at www.dhs.gov.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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