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Undocumented students attend Law School workshop

About 15 undocumented people, including Cornell students, attended a workshop Sept. 29 to learn how to apply to avoid deportation under an Obama administration policy announced this summer. Faculty and students from Cornell Law School, immigration attorneys at Miller Mayer LLP in Ithaca and Rochester Legal Aid offered the free workshop at All Saint's Church in Lansing, N.Y.

Those accepted by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have deportation deferred for two years and become eligible for a work permit.

To qualify for DACA, a person must be under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012; have entered the United States before he or she turned 16; have lived in the United States for the last five years; be enrolled in school, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED; and have not committed a serious crime.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration and asylum law at Cornell Law School and practices immigration law at Miller Mayer LLP, hailed the workshop as a "win-win" for law students and those they helped. "The DACA applicants got good quality legal assistance for free, and the law students got to apply their legal training in the real world. As one law student told me, 'It's our duty to give back to the community.'"

One national report estimates that up to 2,500 young adults in the Southern Tier may qualify for the DACA program. Relatively few people in upstate New York have applied so far, however. Yale-Loehr believes some people are waiting to see if President Barack Obama is re-elected before they apply. They worry that Mitt Romney might end the program if he becomes president.

Yale-Loehr, noted, however, that it is unlikely that DACA applicants would face deportation in any event. "Any administration will focus on deporting criminals, not undocumented students," he said.

The event was promoted through listservs, outreach to undocumented Cornell students, an op-ed in the Ithaca Journal and outreach by the Cornell Farmworker Program. Yale-Loehr praised Mary Jo Dudley, director of the Cornell Farmworker Program, for her outreach efforts. "It's not easy to find and persuade farmworkers," he said. "They worry about coming out of the shadows, even if it means they can finally work legally."

An estimated 15 to 30 Cornell students are undocumented. DACA applicants at the workshop came from Mexico, Russia, Hong Kong and Guatemala.

The Obama administration instituted DACA when Congress failed to pass the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act. In April 2010, Cornell President David Skorton was joined by eight New York state university presidents who signed a letter urging members of Congress to support the legislation.

The DREAM Act would allow undocumented alien students who arrive in the United States as minors and graduate from a U.S. high school to obtain temporary residency for six years. During that time they must acquire a degree from a U.S. institution of higher education or complete at least two years in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree, or have served in the military for at least two years or have received an honorable discharge. After meeting these criteria and having lived in the United States continuously for five years, they would become eligible for conditional permanent residency in the United States.

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Joe Schwartz