For Young Immigrants With a Past, A Fear of Falling Into Policy's Grey Area

Cecilio, 24, came to the United States from Mexico 11 years ago. He’s expecting to graduate from Borough of Manhattan Community College next year with an Associate’s Degree in liberal arts.

Cecilio satisfies the age, residence and education requirements to be eligible for a work permit under President Barack Obama’s new immigration policy unveiled last week. But he’s also used a fake Social Security number to work at a fast food restaurant for nearly 10 years.

He was also caught by Customs and Border Protection agents when he entered the U.S., and was immediately returned to his native Mexico. A day later, he made a second, successful, attempt to come to the U.S.

“I was kind of happy,” he said, referring to Friday, when he heard about the new policy. “But at the same time I was like, ‘Ok, we need to see first what are the requirements.’”

For those who have medical, school and employment records to prove these requirements and clean criminal records stand a fair chance of being approved for deferred action, legal experts said.

But for those like Cecilio, whose petition might include arrests, convictions and repeat immigration violations, things get more complicated and the end result of their application difficult to predict.

Cecilio asked we withhold his last name.

The Obama administration’s decision to grant deferred action to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children could provide relief from deportation to as many as 90,000 in New York state, according to a Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis released Friday.

Although those convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or three and more non-significant misdemeanors will not be eligible, not every aspect of the new policy has been worked out yet. And for now it is difficult to know how many undocumented immigrants might be in Cecilio’s situation.

Cecilio’s entry to the U.S. makes him a repeat immigration violator, a category that is an enforcement priority for removal for DHS. Attorneys say his application for deferred action is likely to be complicated, although it’s difficult to predict the outcome.

Cecilio said he plans to consult an attorney before deciding whether to file in application for deferred action.

Lauren Burke, an immigration attorney, who heads the immigrant youth organization, Atlas, said it might be better if he was not in the first round of applicants.

“Let’s first file a bunch of cases for kids who never even littered on the street,” she said, “then maybe we’ll do kids who jumped turnstiles … to see what’s going on and to see how they respond.”

Joshua, 18, came to the U.S. from Mexico, at the age of 6. He’s working toward getting his GED and plans to hopes to apply for deferred action. He’s been arrested for doing graffiti and possession of a small amount of marijuana, but says the charges were later dismissed. Lawyers say the dismissal improves his chances when applying for deffered action, but weren’t sure which way the final decision could go.

“I have a history,” he said. “I know it’s going to impact me, but I’m hoping it’s not going be that serious.”

Burke, the immigration lawyer, held an information session for young undocumented immigrants, who gathered on Sunday in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to hear more about what Obama’s decision meant for them.

Cecilio carefully listened and fastidiously took notes.

“If you were charged with a youth charge, or if you were in juvenile delinquency court,” said Burke, “we don’t yet know how that’s going to play out.”

She switched between red, brown and green pens to write and draw on a whiteboard, explaining, and emphasizing at the same time that a lot remains unclear.

On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would halt deportations and grant two-year work permits to undocumented immigrants who are not older than 30, came to the country under the age of 16, have continuously resided here for at least five years, have not been convicted of a serious crime and have met education requirements or have been honorably discharged from the military.