STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Starting Wednesday, young immigrants can apply for legal status under President Obama’s historic “deferred action” initiative, and two Staten Island organizations received state grants to help shepherd people through the process.
The state Monday awarded $150,000 each to Make the Road New York, which has an office in Port Richmond and three other locations, and Legal Services, which includes among its offices, a branch in St. George.
A total of $450,000 was made available by the state to support clinics, workshops and legal services across the state, where an estimated 80,000 immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31 could currently benefit from the change to the law.
“We’ve had a growing list of people who have been calling and asking questions,” said Daniel Coates, an organizer at Make the Road’s Port Richmond office, where an attorney will be available Mondays through Fridays to help people determine if they’re eligible and assist with the paperwork. “We’re certainly hoping members of the community come in.”
Legal Services will use the grant toward outreach at community colleges, particularly to low-income immigrants, said Staten Island director Nancy Goldhill.
“We will provide information and advocacy related to their immigration options,” she said. “With free legal help, they can overcome obstacles toward success.”
The sweeping reform announced two months ago by the Department of Homeland Security is temporary; it does not provide a path to citizenship, but allows people to work and keeps them safe from being deported for two years.
To be eligible, illegal immigrants must have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday. They must have lived in the U.S. continuously for the past five years, and either be in high school, have graduated or have received a GED.
Qualifying applicants must also have been under the age of 31 on June 15, when the program was announced.
An immigrant convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor, or three less serious misdemeanors will be rejected, as will anyone deemed to pose a threat to national security.
As many as 1.7 million young immigrants nationwide could be allowed to work legally and live openly in this country as a result of the change, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan research organization the Migration Policy Institute.
The last time the law underwent such sweeping reforms was in 1986 — during the presidency of Ronald Reagan — when more than 3 million immigrants who were here illegally became legal residents under an amnesty.
“It is critical that we get information out to our immigrant communities so that people will know who is eligible for deferred action and so that they can avoid being scammed,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Monday, when announcing the state grants, which also went to the New York Immigration Coalition and the New York State Immigrant Action Fund.
The grant is indeed a boost for Make the Road, but the organization will likely spend more than $150,000 on its outreach and application processing efforts, said Coates.
Young immigrants will also be obliged to pay an fee of $465 to the government as part of the application.
“I’m going to apply, and I hope I qualify,” said 19-year-old Manuel Nestor [member of Make the Road New York]. He arrived here from Mexico as a 12-year-old, and alternated between going to school and working with his father as a laborer, to help support the family. “I just have to finish high school.”
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