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Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Services
is helping young immigrants apply for temporary status

Since President Barak Obama announced June 15 that young undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements can apply for legal, non-immigrant status so they can work and be contributing members of society, Greg Cunningham, director of Catholic Charities’ Immigration and Refugee Services in Spokane, has held several orientations and workshops to help people sign up.

“There are about 1.8 million people eligible in the United States,” he said.  “Washington is one of the top 10 states, especially in Yakima and Franklin counties.”

About 12 came to an orientation in Brewster, and 40 each to orientations in Spokane, Okanogan and Walla Walla, where they learned about the two-year Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“It’s a temporary authorization and does not allow for permanent status,” Greg explained. 

Young people who have graduated from high school or earned a GED, and have no felonies, major misdemeanors or DUI records can enroll so they can go on to higher education or work.

“They are not a population targeted for deportation,” Greg said.

He is hopeful because in the past some temporary programs have become permanent.

Recently, he met with three young women—one in high school, one who graduated in nursing and one who is studying civil engineering—to help them sign up. 

They came to the United States in 2000 when they were ages five through 11, so all they know is their experience here.  They have been educated and acculturated here, and have no ties in Mexico.

“Why would we not want to give them the opportunity to contribute to our society?  I can imagine what they could do for the greater good,” he said.  “Beside that, it is the right, just, kind thing to do.”

So far, Greg has been working with 15 applicants in varying stages of the process.

“It’s not the DREAM Act—the proposal in Congress for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, proposed in 2001 to provide conditional permanent residency to some undocumented residents who arrived in the United States as minors, lived here continuously for at least five years and graduate from U.S. high schools. 

“It’s the DREAM Act lite,” he said.  “It’s the just thing to do with vulnerable people.”

Because it is not an act of Congress, the President can stop it at any time, but Greg doesn’t see that happening.

Applicants must have been under the age of 30 on June 15, 2012, have entered before age 16, be enrolled in high school, have completed high school or a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the military.  Those under 15 may apply only if they are involved in removal proceedings.

For Greg, DACA fits the Catholic bishops’ position on immigration, emphasizing welcoming the stranger.  It also fits his understanding of Gospel values.

He hopes it will be a foot in the door to help bishops and others lobby to extend the opportunity and make it permanent.

For information, call 455-4960.