One of the nation’s top immigration officials is urging those who are newly eligible for temporary legal status to apply for the program without fear.
Speaking at a conference in Los Angeles on Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez said he knows that some immigrants in the country without permission may be wary of identifying themselves to the government as part of President Obama’s new program to defer deportations and grant three-year work permits to some immigrants with longtime ties to the U.S.
“Don’t worry,” Rodriguez told them in Spanish. “Participate with confidence.”
Immigrant advocacy groups say some immigrants fear that applying under the program will increase their risk of deportation by making them more visible.
With more than 20 states mounting legal challenges to Obama’s program, and no guarantee that the next president will continue it, some are worried that they could be targeted by immigration agents for deportation now or in the future.
Speaking at the National Immigrant Integration Conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Rodriguez said applying for the program is the best way immigrants can protect themselves from deportation, saying those who are accepted for the deportation deferral programs will be “by definition not priorities for removal.”
In an earlier interview with reporters, Rodriguez said his agency would not share personal information about applicants with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that carries out deportations, unless the applicant has a serious criminal history or poses a threat.
“The only circumstances under which information is shared with ICE is in the event that somebody has either a disqualifying criminal history or is somebody who we determine to pose a threat to national security,” Rodriguez said. “Otherwise that information as a matter of our protocols is kept confidential.”
Rodriguez told immigrants that the benefits of the program outweigh any risk.
“You don’t have to worry anymore,” he said. “You can bring your child to school or to the doctor’s office without worrying that something bad is going to happen. You can get a work permit and obtain a better job.”
The conference, which on Monday features a speech by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, kicked off Sunday with a large information session attended by thousands of immigrants. Many wanted to know whether they will qualify for the program, which is to be launched next year.
While immigrant-rights groups are gearing up to start a massive public information campaign to communicate the details of the new policy to immigrant communities around the country, Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will be processing the applications, is also getting ready.
Rodriguez said the agency is in the process of hiring 800 additional staff members to help vet the applications. The new program will be paid for by the application fees, he said.