To qualify, Cabrera-Matute must prove that he has lived in the United States since graduating last year from Friendly High School in Fort Washington. He has no official records to cover the whole 16-month period, but, on his girlfriend’s suggestion, he brought in printouts documenting his casual habit of “checking in” on his Facebook page — from the mall, from Olive Garden. “It just lets all my friends know what I’m doing, in case they want to join.”
That, said a CASA adviser, might be enough to qualify him. Or it might not.
It can be daunting for immigrants in the country illegally to document their lives here. Many have spent years trying not to leave a footprint — working at jobs that pay in cash under the table, or using fake names and Social Security numbers to get work. To qualify for deferred action now, they must try to create a paper trail.
But in some cases, it is unclear what sort of documentation is acceptable, and this has created frustration for applicants and charges from critics that the system will be easy to game.
The confusion stems in part from instructions put out by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stating that, along with things such as bank transactions, utility bills and school records, applicants can send in any “other document you believe is relevant.”
“You can provide copies of anything . . . of course, there’s going to be fraud here,” said Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland, a group opposed to legalization for undocumented immigrants. “They’re never going to show us what documents they accepted, so it’s all smoke and mirrors by Homeland Security.”
Immigrant advocacy groups are also frustrated because they don’t know how to advise applicants on what might be acceptable. Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, whose 12,000 members nationwide have been advising clients on deferred action, said her group has been pressing the government for more specifics as to what level of documentation is acceptable.
“We keep putting these questions out and they keep saying, ‘We’re working on it, we’re going to get you answers,’ ” she said. “People still don’t know what works or what doesn’t. People are saying, ‘You go first,’ ‘No, you go first,’ and a few brave souls are going first and everyone’s saying, ‘Okay, who got the approvals, and what did you put in?’ ”
A senior official at the Department of Homeland Security said that the agency has put out an unusually large amount of information about the program, including at 111 meetings with immigrant advocacy groups, but added that “it’s not feasible that we can provide [a list of] the entire universe of documents that would work or not work . . .each case must be looked at individually, based on the facts presented in the individual case.”