A few blocks away from USC, the transcript office of one high school is bustling.
“Every day since Aug. 14, we’ve been swamped with requests for transcripts from graduates, about 45 to 50 per day,” said Gwen Session, office technician of Foshay Learning Center.
The Foshay Learning Center is one of three high schools included in USC’s family of 15 local schools with education and health outreach programs.
A month after the inception of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, schools like Foshay in the Los Angeles Unified School District are facing an inundation of requests for transcripts. Deferred action is aimed to allow undocumented youth brought to the United States illegally by their parents temporary deferral from deportation.
The policy grants youth two years’ eligibility to stay in the United States and authorization to work, but unlike the DREAM Act that was not passed into law, it is not a permanent pathway to citizenship.
More than 2,300 students in LAUSD have requested transcripts to apply for deferred action. The district has an estimated 200,000 students registered who listed another country as their birthplace who could be potentially eligible for this program.
“I see it as a positive step as an incentive to finish high school, but at the same time it only grants two years of work,” said Maria Cuevas, a sophomore studying geological sciences at USC who graduated from Foshay.
Cuevas said she has a number of peers who she only recently discovered were brought to the United States as children.
“It’s a step, but not enough, especially if you would like to pursue higher education — I would hope to see a pathway for citizenship from the next presidential candidate,” Cuevas said.
Those eligible for deferred action include youth under 30 who have lived in the United States since they were 16, lived in the United States since 2007 and have received a high school diploma or GED or have served in the military. Recipients also need a clean criminal record and the ability to pay the application’s $465 fee.
The policy is “still an expression of the federal government’s belief that someone’s labor can be legal while the person is not,” said Dominic Powell, an activist of National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
Others, however, saw the policy as a step forward for immigration reform.
“I think it’s really good that this happened. It doesn’t solve our immigration problem but it will help boost the economy. Deferred action will allow youth to get a job and improve society for two years. What it is important is what it stands for,” said Alma Lemus, assistant chair of Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, an on-campus group intended to support undocumented students in completing their education.
Lemus is also an assistant at Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, an organization that aims to help youth with their deferred action application process. Los Angeles County has 15 offices where residents can turn in applications, and all of them have been filled since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications in August.
“We’ve been receiving the most people I’ve ever seen coming in for information and advice starting before August 15 — probably 40 or 50 people per day,” Lemus said.
Community organizations such as Hermandad Mexicana Nacional and the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles are helping families with the paperwork and encouraging people to apply before the presidential inauguration in January, in case of a change in president or legislature. CHIRLA’s Downtown office in MacArthur Park has seen 200-300 people a day, many of whom are college graduates.
Lemus pointed out that deferred action opens up significantly more opportunities for students who have graduated from college.
“Usually an undocumented college graduate would otherwise be forced to go back to a low-income job such as on the farm, factory or construction that doesn’t serve up to their title,” Lemus said. “Now for at least two years they can use their degree and find a job that fits their skills.”