For those of you in Georgia, you’ve probably heard about Senate Bill 404. What this bill proposed to do was to deny immigrants who had been granted “deferred action” from being able to obtain a Georgia driver’s license. There are similar bills and even laws across the United States, but I’d like to talk about SB 404 – its rise and fall.
When people think of deferred action, they typically think of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, deferred action has been around for a long time and has frequently been used as a tool for discretion by ICE and USCIS.
At Klinke Immigration, there are two types of cases, outside of DACA, that commonly receive deferred action:
1. VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE (VAWA)
If the survivor of domestic violence was married to a lawful permanent resident, she typically cannot immediately file for a green card. Instead, she files a VAWA application and this gets her in line for a green card. Even once the VAWA case is approved, it can take years for her case to get to the head of the line where she can apply for a green card.
During this interim period, the time between the VAWA approval and the time her green card is approved, she receives deferred action. She can get a driver’s license, she can work, she can start regaining her independence and moving forward with her life.
2. VICTIMS OF OTHER VIOLENT CRIME
Only 10,000 U visas are available every year. For the current fiscal year (FY 2014 began October 1, 2013), USCIS granted the 10,000 U visas by December 11, 2013 – in only ten weeks! This doesn’t mean that USCIS stops looking at U application, they keep adjudicating and making decisions. However, they are not allowed to approve any new U cases.
Instead, if they want to approve a case, they grant deferred action. This allows the person to live in the United States with some protection and to wait, without fear, for new U visas to become available on October 1st.
This domestic violence and other victims of crimes are doing the right thing. They are trying to “get legal” like so many of our legislators want.
The people granted DACA are doing the same thing. On NPR, I heard an interview with one of the sponsors of SB 404. He said that the purpose of the bill was to ensure no one illegally present in Georgia got a Georgia driver’s license. How are the people who are following the law and have been granted deferred action status in any way illegally present?
Thankfully, SB 404 did not make it out of the State Senate. It is dead thanks to great advocacy from the community – immigration attorneys, domestic violence advocates, those who work in education, informed members of the community, and the immigrants themselves. At one point, the calls against SB 404 overwhelmed the voicemails and staff members.
Never underestimate the power of making your voice heard. One voice may be small, but when combined with hundreds or thousands more, the message gets heard loud and clear.