A panel of four educators and experts on immigration gathered at Elon University Oct. 17 to discuss the Deferred Action Immigration Program and how it affects the lives of Latinos in the community and in the country.
The Deferred Action Program offers two-year work permits to illegal immigrants under 31 and allows them to apply for a social security number, a driver’s license and exemption from deportation during that time, according to Ken Fernandez, assistant professor of political science at Elon. The program is geared toward children of illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years.
“This has the potential to help millions of people right now,” Fernandez said. “It will have a real impact on real people.”
Daniel, a high school senior who preferred to use only his first name, is in the process of applying to the program. His parents entered the United States illegally when he was four, and he has lived in the country since then. He went to school in North Carolina, and he didn’t know he wasn’t a citizen of the United States until he attempted to sign up for the Marine Corps.
“The recruiter asked me if I was a citizen of this country and I didn’t know the answer,” Daniel said.
He then applied for the Deferred Action Program, and the federal government accepted his application.
“I was brought here at a young age,” Daniel said. “I don’t blame my parents, I don’t blame anyone. I am not a citizen of this country, but I feel like one.”
To remain in the program, Daniel cannot invoke criminal charges at any point during the two-year period. After two years, he can reapply for the program if he still qualifies.
And there are many other students like Daniel living in the United States. Jeff Carpenter, an assistant professor in education and former high school teacher, has dealt with students who have tried and failed to gain citizenship or legal rights in the country.
“I saw students who went through every hoop and were still denied,” Carpenter said. “These students were denied opportunities because of choices their parents made. Students who have the potential should be given the opportunity.”
Hannah Gill, research associate at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said she believes it is important to help the Latino community, because it helps grow North Carolina’s economy.
“Half of the Latinos living in Alamance County are living in poverty,” Gill said. “By helping them, we can benefit the state, and everyone, as a whole.”