As young undocumented immigrants scrambled this week for high school transcripts and proof of local residency for applications that would allow them to remain and work in the United States legally, state officials across the country began reviewing their own policies to see how a new federal program would affect them.
New issues are creeping up, such as whether President Barack Obama’s order to prevent the deportations of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants pre-empts state polices that don’t allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses or pay resident tuition at public colleges and universities.
“It’s fair to say that we don’t yet know what the impact will be, but will be reviewing the new federal program carefully in the context of N.C. law and university policy,” said Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the University of North Carolina system.
To the consternation of some Republicans, the Obama administration announced plans in June to stop deportations of young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. The deferrals, if approved, would award applicants work permits and keep them from being deported for two years.
Officials said this week that it would be up to the states to determine issues under their control, such as whether undocumented immigrants who get deferrals may receive in-state tuition and driver’s licenses. Those rules vary from state to state.
The deferral program could affect an estimated 1.4 million illegal immigrants, according to the Immigration Policy Center, the research arm of the nonprofit American Immigration Council. California has about 460,000 potential applicants, followed by Texas (227,000) and Florida (85,750). Georgia has 38,500 potential applicants. North Carolina has 31,010.
Advocates across the country began holding clinics this month for thousands of immigrants who want assistance on how to apply. More than 1,000 eligible youth were expected to attend a workshop Wednesday at Casa de Maryland, a community organization outside Washington.
Clutching her school records, 17-year-old Marina Bautista stood outside Casa de Maryland late Wednesday eagerly waiting to speak with a group of volunteers who’d help her fill out an application.
Bautista was brought to the states when she was just 11 months old and she’s never returned to central Mexico. Now, she said, she doesn’t have to worry about being deported from the only country she knows: “We can now do things legally without having to worry about police thinking we’re here to cause chaos."
She hopes to go to college to study photography or cosmetology.
The Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, N.C., plans to bring in lawyers every Saturday and Monday to meet with potential applicants for as long as there’s a need.
One of the biggest questions from students is whether they now can apply for in-state college tuition, said Marty Rosenbluth, the executive director of the North Carolina Immigrant Rights Project. “And the answer is we just don’t know yet.”
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue is reviewing the executive order to see how it may affect the state, said Jon Romano, the governor’s communications director.
Many states are expected to review their immigration policies to ensure compliance with the executive order, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ann Morse, the program director of the conference’s Immigrant Policy Project, said some states might want to update their laws to coincide with federal policies, but she didn’t expect the executive order to have a dramatic impact on current policies.
The California State University system expects that it will continue to allow undocumented students to receive resident tuition rates provided they meet current eligibility requirements, such as attending three years and graduating from California high schools.
But those who receive deferred action wouldn’t be eligible for resident tuition at the State University System of Florida. Diane McCain, a spokeswoman for the system, said federal law would have to be changed to define these students as “qualified aliens” in order for Florida to recognize their status.
In Georgia, the state’s university policy won’t change, and students may apply and be accepted at out-of-state tuition rates at most institutions, said John Millsaps, a spokesman for the University System of Georgia. At others, including the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Georgia and Georgia State University, undocumented students won’t be accepted because the colleges already have had to turn away qualified applicants because of space constraints.
Immigration lawyers in North Carolina said Wednesday that they thought young immigrants would qualify for North Carolina driver’s licenses. Miguel Manna, a Raleigh immigration attorney, said immigrants who received deferred action would get Social Security numbers –which many lacked – in order to get driver’s licenses.
The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles confirmed that driver’s licenses will be issued to those who meet the requirements. Marge Howell, a spokeswoman for the state DMV, said those approved for deferred action probably would get two-year licenses that expired when their work permits expired.
When he announced the policy, Obama called it a “temporary stopgap” that would give Congress time to pass the DREAM Act, a bill that would put many young illegal immigrants on paths to citizenship. But many Republicans saw the policy as an attempt by the president to supplant congressional authority and issue back-door amnesty.
“Americans should be outraged that President Obama is planning to usurp the constitutional authority of the United States Congress and grant amnesty by edict to 1 million illegal aliens,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said after the announcement.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, eligible immigrants include those who aren’t over 30, were brought to the U.S. before age 16, have been in the country for at least five years, have no criminal records and are in school, have high school diplomas or the equivalent, or have honorable discharges from the military.
"Deferred action does not provide lawful status or a pathway to permanent residence or citizenship," Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of the DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in a conference call.
Additional staff will be hired to address the anticipated high volume of applications. The new hires will be paid for through proceeds from the $465 application fee.