In many ways, Oscar Martin Flores looks like the ideal candidate for the landmark executive order announced by President Barack Obama on Friday that would eliminate the specter of deportation for some undocumented immigrants and allow them to apply for work permits.
He moved with his family from Mexico to Texas at age 7. Now 25, he’s pursuing his engineering degree at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg and could be the first in his family to graduate from college.
But a drunken-driving arrest last year has thrown his future into jeopardy. Removal proceedings are now under way to send him back to Mexico.
It’s unclear whether Flores will qualify under the new policy, which says anyone with a felony or serious misdemeanors is ineligible. Yet it might still be his best hope to remain in the United States.
Immigration advocates across the country have praised the president’s new policy, many calling it the next step toward passage of the proposed DREAM Act legislation, which would give some undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship if they are students or military veterans.
But others are urging caution as they unravel the implications of the order, which grants undocumented immigrants deferred action for two years but does not offer a path to citizenship or grant amnesty.
“This process is not filling out a form,” said Flores’ attorney, Juan R. Gonzalez, who is based in San Antonio. “If you don’t do a thorough analysis of the individual, you might put them in jeopardy of being deported.”
The announcement met with elation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association conference in Nashville, Tenn., which Gonzalez attended. The reaction was similar during last year’s conference, when immigration officials said they’d exercise more prosecutorial discretion and review pending deportation cases. But barely more than 1 percent of those cases have been reviewed, Gonzalez said.
To qualify under the new policy, applicants must have moved to the U.S. before age 16, lived here for five consecutive years, be in school or have a high school diploma or GED. They also must be 30 or younger.
One of Gonzalez’s clients, who asked not to be identified, has lived in South Texas since she was 13 and is now pursuing her degree in psychology. But she’s 33.
“It’s overwhelming to know there is an opportunity, but if they do that cutoff age, well, it’s all up to the Lord — and the president,” she said Saturday, crying softly.
Despite that some undocumented immigrants might not qualify, there’s still a sense the policy could achieve new strides: San Antonio immigration attorney Nancy Shivers, who also attended AILA, will meet with high school principals to discuss undocumented students who are at risk of dropping out.
“This is going to be really an incentive for some undocumented kids to really finish their high school diploma and move forward,” Shivers said.
In Edinburg, Flores hopes for the same such opportunity to get his education, even if it’s only for a few extra months.
“If they want to deport me,” Flores said, “let me have a chance to finish my school.”