Students eager to learn about deferred action

Sarahi Hernandez knows the risks but come Aug. 15, she’ll be applying for deferred action status. If granted, it would finally give the young Mexican undocumented immigrant, who came to this country when she was 8 months old, the right to work legally.

Winter Torres, an attorney with Padres & Jovenes Unidos, goes over requirements for applying for deferred action status before a packed house Thursday at STRIVE Prep in southwest Denver.

“This is something I’ve been waiting for,” said Hernandez, 19, a sophomore human services major at Metropolitan State College of Denver. “Having a work permit would let me get a job to pay for my education.”

On Thursday night, more than 200 young people – and many parents of young people – turned out for an informational forum sponsored by Padres & Jóvenes Unidos on the recently announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Attorneys walked participants through the complicated process of applying and answered questions about what sorts of documentation and legal representation they will need. The program will begin accepting applicants on Aug. 15.

A way to avoid the constant threat of deportation

The deferred action program, announced by the Obama administration in June, offers a way for young undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and who have remained here for most of their lives to be relieved – at least temporarily – of the threat of deportation.

Learn more

It’s not amnesty and it’s not a path to citizenship or a permanent residency card. But it does grant those approved by the Department of Homeland Security the ability to apply for work authorization and receive an Employment Authorization Card, which they need in order to hold a job legally.

Deferred action will be granted in two-year increments, but can be terminated at any time at the government’s discretion.

“Nobody has a right to deferred action,” attorney Winter Torres told the gathered crowd. “They can or cannot give it. It’s up to (Homeland Security).”

The requirements are strict. To be eligible, an immigrant must:

  • Be no younger than 15 and no older than 31 as of June 15 of this year
  • Have come to the United States before age 16
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, as well as at the time of making application for consideration for the program
  • Be currently in school or else have graduated from high school or gotten a GED, or have been honorably discharged from military service
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors
  • Not be considered any sort of threat to national security or public safety

Facebook can help prove eligibility

Proving an applicant meets all those criteria can be tricky. How do people prove they’ve been in this country continuously?

Attorneys suggest copies of school records, bank account statements, utility bills, phone bills, even Facebook postings can demonstrate their presence here.

In addition, applicants might need to submit fingerprints to the FBI to confirm their lack of a criminal record, and submit certified court records from every jurisdiction in which they have received misdemeanors, including traffic infractions.

Applying feels scary after years of secrecy

Even meeting all the criteria is no guarantee an applicant will be approved for the program. And even applying can feel scary to immigrants who’ve spent their lives keeping their undocumented status secret.

Sarahi Hernandez, left, and Yuki Diaz discuss their plans to apply for deferred action status. Both young women came here from Mexico as children, without documentation. Both long to be able to work to help pay for their education.

Furthermore, information supplied by those who are eventually denied can be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities.

“Everything could change after the election,” Hans Meyer, an attorney working with immigrants, told the audience. “It’s good to have a backup plan.”

An estimated 1.8 million young people nationwide may be eligible for the program. Ricardo Martinez, executive director of Padres & Jovenes Unidos, said there is a huge amount of interest in it locally.

“This is our first informational forum but other groups have hosted them, and they’ve all been attended by 150 to 200 people,” Martinez said. “And that’s just publicizing it through fliers and some phone calls. There’s a lot of anxiety out there, a lot of rumors. We wanted to bring out as much correct information as possible.”

Yuki Diaz, a senior at Summit Academy in Denver, already knows a lot about the program. She’s researched it and also intends to apply as soon as possible.

“I want to finish school, and get into medical school,” said Diaz, who came to this country from Mexico as a 9-year-old. “This is important because it confirms our place in a society that has been pushing us out.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede