Young immigrants in scramble to apply for Beaufort County work permits

astice@islandpacket.comAugust 20, 2012 

Since the launch of a program last week to allow young illegal immigrants to get work permits, Hector Esquivel's Bluffton law office has been flooded with eager applicants.

Esquivel, an attorney with Jenkins & Esquivel, said he already has helped about 150 people with their applications and is booked solid for the next few weeks with appointments for more of the same.

"It's been absolutely insane," Esquivel said. "The people coming in are very positive and excited."

The Homeland Security Department announced Aug. 14 that it will accept applications from undocumented youth brought to the United States as children so they can avoid deportation and work legally for two years. President Barack Obama's June executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, could benefit hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants across the country.

One of those is Angely, a 17-year-old living in Bluffton who came with her family from Mexico when she was 11 years old. Angely said she is gathering the documents she'll need to prove she is eligible for the program, including proof that she was brought to country before her 16th birthday and has lived here for at least five years.

"I'm really excited about this program because it's an opportunity for a lot of dreamers ... to do something for themselves," she said. "I'll have the opportunity to study and finish my school here and have the opportunity to work legally, without being scared of being deported."

"I feel like this is my home now," she added.

Mario Martinez of the Mexican-American Coalition said he's been impressed with the young immigrants he's helped fill out their forms -- about 50 at last count.

"Everyone has everything they need; they're in high school or they've graduated -- no criminal records," Martinez said. "They're already (American), to be honest."

Those who want to apply need to have nearly spotless criminal records. Convictions for a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors will automatically disqualify them.

Only a few have been worried about revealing their immigration status to the federal government, Esquivel said.

"Some people have been afraid that it's a trap, that the government is going to use this information to come around and pick them up," Esquivel said.

Others wonder what will happen if Obama loses his re-election bid in November. However, Martinez said that hasn't discouraged them from applying.

He believes the program has already sealed the Hispanic vote in Obama's favor.

Local groups are increasing aid for people who want to apply for the program. Catholic Charities will hold workshops starting Sept. 8 to help people fill out the application.

The paperwork for the program can also be downloaded from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Related content

  1. Lawyers field questions on Obama's executive order for young immigrants, July 15, 2012
  2. Court could provide clarity on immigration status checks, July 7, 2012
  3. For young, undocumented immigrants in Beaufort County, Obama's order brings hope, June 23, 2012

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