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Is 'Deferred Action' A Real Change For Ariz. Youth?


Here's the latest flashpoint in the between the state of Arizona and the federal government over immigration policy. Yesterday, the U.S. government began accepting applications for Deferred Action, a temporary reprieve from deportation for young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Just hours later, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed an executive order denying state benefits to those who qualify. That includes obtaining a driver's license.

To better understand what this means for potential applicants, we've called on Daniel Rodriguez. He's co-founder of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, and is himself undocumented.

Daniel, welcome back to the program.

DANIEL RODRIQUEZ: Thank you so much for having me.

BLOCK: And first, curious whether you have filled out any paperwork for yourself for Deferred Action?

RODRIQUEZ: You know, Melissa, I have been so busy doing forums, so busy helping everybody else that I have not gotten all my documents together. But I will begin very soon.

BLOCK: Well, when you heard about Governor Brewer's executive order yesterday, what was your reaction?

RODRIQUEZ: I was very saddened by the announcement because I believe that it did not have to be made. I think it comes out of a long-standing fight between the state and federal government, specifically Arizona. Now, the executive order really does not create any new denial of public benefit. But there is a lot of confusion in the ground as to what it really does.

BLOCK: Are you hearing from people who are saying, you know, I won't even be able to get a driver's license now, even if I do get status under Deferred Action?

RODRIQUEZ: We are hearing from a lot of individuals who are saying, you know, we can't get a driver's license now, we can't get an ID, why apply? So what we're trying to do is to keep informing the community about what Deferred Action looks like in a state like Arizona. The fact that you can apply and get a work permit but because other state laws are still in effect, you will not be able to get an ID.

BLOCK: Daniel, you came to the United States illegally as a child. You were seven when you came. And a lot of the work that you do there in Arizona is with others who are in similar situations. What are the conversations that you've been having about Deferred Action? What are you telling people if they are eligible? Should they apply, or are there any caveats to that?

RODRIQUEZ: I believe that any body that is eligible to apply should apply, but you should take your time in getting your documents ready, talking to an attorney or going to a community forum where you can get legal device as to your specific case. And moving forward, I think we need to because if we have something like Deferred Action, although it may not be much for us, if we don't have a lot of people applying for it and we're not showing the benefits that are coming out of this program, then it's going to be much harder to ask for something bigger, like immigration reform or the DREAM Act.

BLOCK: And the documents that you tell people they need to have ready, what kinds of documents do they need?

RODRIQUEZ: Well, you know, Melissa, I always tell people I'm an American without papers. And I say that because I'm very well-documented. And what we're going to see in the coming days, weeks, and months is individuals - immigrant youth - bringing you diplomas, certificates of awards; they're going to be bringing immunization records. Or maybe they joined a church and they have the church documents with them. So they're going to be showing all the documents that have accumulated by being present in being part of our communities.

BLOCK: What do you tell people who say, you know, this is temporary? You know, I may get Deferred Action for two years but after that who knows, I could be sent back to where I was born.

RODRIQUEZ: There's a lot of skepticism in the community as to Deferred Action. And in states like Arizona where we have a culture of fear, because of laws like SB 1070, the main challenge is going to be having individuals trust this process. Having individuals trust a process that, you know, requires them to turn in all their documentation, let immigration authorities know where they live, and put trust and faith in that process.

So it's definitely a challenge for us to let individuals know that this is something good and that if they're eligible they should apply, because for so long they have been trying to run away from being identified by immigration.

BLOCK: What about for you personally, Daniel, what is the biggest difference that getting status under this Deferred Action policy would make in your own life there in Arizona?

RODRIQUEZ: Well, Deferred Action in the state of Arizona now, after this executive order, has clarified - would only really benefit me by giving me employment authorization; which means a work permit, a Social Security Card. Now, that would definitely help me find a new job. My challenge will be like every other American's challenge that there's not a lot of jobs out there. But, you know, at least I would have that.

For a lot of us, it's much more than the nine-digit number. For a lot of us it's the fact that we are beginning to be integrated into our communities, communities that we have been part of since we were kids. So really, this step, even though it's quite small and even smaller in Arizona, it means a world to us.

BLOCK: Daniel Rodriguez is an immigration activist in Phoenix, Arizona. Daniel, thank you so much.

RODRIQUEZ: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.