Hundreds expected at Hispanic forum on immigration deferral

The forum begins at 2 p.m. at the Latin American Association headquarters on Buford Highway, and organizers are expecting a big crowd. Similar events in other cities across the country, including New York and Houston, have drawn thousands of people.

A new policy by the Obama administration announced in June allows young people a "deferred action," or promise they wouldn't be deported for two years. Wednesday was the first day immigrants could start applying for the new program which spares them from deportation and gives them the right to work legally in the U.S. for two years.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), which is organizing the forum along with Latin American Association and the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, said the free event was designed to help answer general questions about applying for the deferral. Gonzalez said young people have a slew of questions from everything about what school records might be necessary to whether they must have a high school diploma. One piece of advice, he said, will be urging young people to have all of their documents in order because there will be no appeals of applications denied.

"There is a sense of excitement and there is a sense of anxiety. There is some anxiety that it's only two years, but ultimately, it's a two-year-window in which these young people will have some normalcy, for them to continue working and go to college," said Gonzalez.

The forum will not provide one-on-one help, but instead would be a panel of experts conducting a presentation about the application process and documents needed.

To apply, immigrants must pay $465 and submit to background checks. Those who receive deferred action can apply for driver's licenses in Georgia. The policy applies to illegal immigrants, under the age of 31, who were brought here as young children, who have not committed serious crimes and who are now in school or have graduated. As many as 1.4 million immigrants across the U.S. might be now eligible for deferred action, according to an estimate by the Immigration Policy Center, an arm of the American Immigration Council, an immigrant rights and policy group in Washington. Of those, 24,360 live in Georgia, the eighth-largest total among states.Supporters of say the policy is a humane way to boost the U.S. economy by keeping educated immigrants here.

Supporters say the policy is a humane way to boost the U.S. economy by keeping educated immigrants here.

Critics say the White House is pandering to Hispanics with this election-year announcement, and they worry the new policy will allow illegal immigrants to take jobs from U.S. citizens in Georgia, particularly at a time of high joblessness.

Phil Kent, national spokesman of Americans for Immigration Control and a member of Georgia's Immigration and Enforcement Review Board lambasted the policy which allows those granted the reprieve from deportation to obtain work get permits and get Social Security cards.

"Valid social security cards are like keys to the kingdom," he said. "They could then apply for anything from getting a driver's license to financial aid to college...They certainly should not be granted work permits in a time of high unemployment."

Successful applicants would be given work permits. However, the program does not include a path to citizenship or permanent legal status.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.