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Immigrants Scramble To Figure Their Status Under Obama's Plan


We turn now to the president's immigration plan. President Obama's executive action is designed to protect up to 4 million people living in this country illegally from deportation by issuing many of them temporary work visas. The plan is getting praise from many in the immigrant community, yet there are those who say it doesn't go far enough.

NPR's Richard Gonzales looks at what these policies will mean when they're actually put into practice.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: For much of his adult life, 34-year-old Jong-Min You has wanted some relief from the fear that he and his parents could be deported at any time. They came here from South Korea when he was a year old. Two years ago, You wanted to apply for protection under a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. It shields people from deportation who are brought here illegally as children. But the age limit was 31, and You was disappointed to learn that he was too old to qualify.

JONG-MIN YOU: I was 32, plus five months. And I had aged out.

GONZALES: You, who works seven days a week managing his parents' grocery store in Brooklyn, wants to become a judge. But his dreams of going to law school were just that - dreams. The president's announcement last week might change his fortunes. To begin with, he has a brother who is a lawful permanent resident. Under the president's plan, the parents of U.S. citizens or lawful, permanent residents can apply to stay to get a temporary work permit for three years if they have a clean criminal record and pay taxes.

You himself appears eligible for relief under an expansion of the DACA program; the same one he didn't qualify for two years ago. That's because the president is lifting the upper age limit. All in all, it looks good for You and his family if they apply for deferred action.

YOU: I knew that I would be covered because the age cap of DACA was vanished, uplifted so I was really pleased. But I know that there's so many people who are left out; about 6 million to 7 million who are left out.

GONZALES: Who will actually benefit from the president's plan and who won't is still an open question. Lawyers and immigrant advocates are just beginning to spread the word to people who think the program might work for them.


MATTHEW HOLT: They're going to want to get in that line. The line could be 4 million people long. They're going to want to get in the line as fast as they can.

GONZALES: At a party to view the president's speech in San Diego, Attorney Matthew Holt told an audience of activists to spread a word of caution.


HOLT: It's essential that we let people know that right now, there is no line to get into yet. So tell your friends, tell your family, tell the people that you go to church with, tell the people that your kids go to school with - tell them that it's going to take a few more weeks.

GONZALES: Activists in San Diego say they'll hold initial public information sessions soon. They're advising people to begin collecting documents now and to be aware of less-than-savory characters who are trying to take advantage of them. Katia Hansen is an immigration lawyer with the Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services Program in Vista, California.

KATIA HANSEN: There are immigration attorneys, immigration consultants and notarios who already have on their websites, on their Facebook page, ads on Craig's list that say executive action is coming. Obama is going to pass immigration reform without Congress. Pay this amount of money, and get to the front of the line now.

GONZALES: In reality, that line is questionable because the program is temporary and it provides no path to citizenship. No one knows how many people will apply for relief under the president's program. Immigration experts point to the previous deferred action or DACA program two years ago. More than a million young people were thought to be eligible, yet little more than half actually came forward. Their fear may be real, says Attorney Cesar Luna, but the lesson is simple.

CESAR LUNA: We saw it with deferred action. That if you come out, nothing is going to happen to.

GONZALES: A Homeland Security website says it will take several months for the government to issue the forms and regulations governing the president's immigration plan. Richard Gonzales, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.