The deferred action program giving undocumented youth reprieve from deportation and work permits was recently put to the test in Arizona when a dreamer, who recently applied for the federal program, was arrested for a minor traffic violation.
Cesar Valdes, a 20-year-old who came to the United States from Guerrero when he was a toddler, was driving his younger brother to school Thursday morning when a Phoenix police officer stopped him for driving with an expired license plate.
Valdes explained to the officer that he recently paid to have it renewed and wasn’t ticketed for the offense. Instead, he was ticketed for failing to produce a valid driver’s license and identification.
The officer proceeded to arrest Valdes because he wasn’t able to prove he was in the country legally, as required by Arizona’s new immigration law.
Valdes waited 10 hours in jail before he was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was released at approximately 5 a.m. on Friday immediately after ICE officials confirmed he filed a request for deferred action.
“I always knew there was a risk to driving without a license, but I never imagined it would cause this horrible experience,” Valdes told VOXXI.
Valdes released because of deferred action
Jose Peñalosa, an Arizona immigration attorney, explained that because Valdes recently filed an application for deferred action, immigration authorities released him right away.
“Having his deferred action application filed certainly helped,” Peñalosa, who assisted Valdes in putting together the application, told VOXXI.
He added that while immigration authorities made the right decision of letting Valdes go, there should be a quicker process to verify deferred action applicants and beneficiaries. This would avoid having dreamers, like Valdes, wait in jail for hours until immigration officials verify their immigration status.
Carmen Cornejo, a long-time advocate for dreamers in Arizona, agreed in streamlining the process. She suggested police officers should be able to have a way of identifying deferred action applicants and beneficiaries so that resources are not spent on detaining dreamers.
“It is a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of police resources to be going after these young people,” she told VOXXI. “We should focus on going after criminals instead of going after dreamers.”
Responding to Valdes’ arrest, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told VOXXI, “We need to make sure that deferred action is indeed a protection for these young people … and that this order is being carried out by local law enforcement.”
Dreamers and supporters rally behind Valdes
As soon as news broke out that Valdes had been arrested, Cornejo joined a team of supporters and dreamers—many of them members of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition—in helping Valdes get released from jail.
They had attorneys ready to help Valdes and they were constantly monitoring his case. They also uploaded a video informing people about his arrest and provided support for his family.
Though Valdes describes getting arrested and detained as a “scary and bad experience,” he said he felt some ease knowing that members of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition (ADAC) were working toward getting him released from jail.
“The whole time I was there, I was thinking ADAC has my back,” he told VOXXI. “I knew I had the support from dreamers and supporters who were ready to put in 100 percent to help me get released. It’s incredible to see the amount of support I received from them.”
On Monday, Valdes will attend his biometrics appointment, putting him one step closer to being granted deferred action.
Until then, he said he plans to carry letters sent to him by the Department of Homeland Security confirming he filed a request for deferred action just in case he is stopped again.
Peñalosa said he advises dreamers who haven’t been granted deferred action to do the same, adding that they should also carry a form of identification.
Valdes still can’t get a driver’s license
But even if Valdes is granted deferred action, he won’t be able to apply for a driver’s license.
That’s because Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer filed an executive order in August denying deferred action dreamers driver’s licenses, a move Grijalva said was “punitive and mean-spirited.”
Valdes said he still plans to drive even without a license.
“For me, driving is a necessity,” he told VOXXI.