Minnesota schools are seeing a big spike in requests for school records from young immigrants who are not legally living in the United States.
Hundreds of young adults who arrived in the country as children have sought those documents to apply for a federal program that offers them a chance to legally work in the country, at least temporarily. As many as 5,000 immigrants in Minnesota could qualify for the program, state officials say.
It's hard to pin down just how many transcript requests Minnesota schools have received from young illegal immigrants since the Obama administration announced the program, known as Deferred Action, this summer. Schools aren't required to ask why people are requesting transcripts.
Some districts — such as Anoka-Hennepin and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan — have received a few dozen. The Worthington district received more than 75 transcript requests. Minneapolis school officials received more than 350 and St. Paul officials likely more than 200.
Erin Moline, supervisor of student records for the St. Paul district, said early on it wasn't clear why her office was receiving the transcript requests.
"Now when we receive phone calls or inquiries, or people stopping in, we immediately just ask them when they're requesting transcripts or other records if it's for Deferred Action so we can get them exactly what they need and they don't have to come back because they're missing a document," she said.
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Deferred Action is an Obama administration effort that allows immigrants under the age of 30 who came to the country illegally as children to earn two-year work visas, Social Security numbers and a reprieve from deportation.
Immigrants applying for the program need documents to prove that they have a high school diploma, a GED or they're enrolled in school. They cannot have had any run-ins with the law more serious than a misdemeanor.
Most importantly, they need to prove they arrived in the United States before they were 16, and have been in the country continuously for five years.
Most young people who are not legally in Minnesota must rely on school records: transcripts, enrollment forms and immunization records.
"School transcripts are extremely helpful and one of the preferred pieces of evidence that the immigration service is requesting," said John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.
Keller's organization has held several workshops instructing families on how to get the proper documentation from schools.
Among those who recently gathered records is Uriel Rosales Tlatenchi, a 22-year old University of Minnesota sociology and Chicano studies major. He is working with an immigration attorney to prepare his application for deferred action.
Rosales Tlatenchi has lived in the United States illegally since his parents brought him to Minneapolis from Mexico in 1999.
With a temporary work visa he hopes to obtain a teaching license after he graduates in December and put his degrees to good use.
"All of a sudden I have these opportunities for me," he said.
Rosales Tlatenchi was able to get his school records from the Minneapolis district for free.
Superintendent Bernadia Johnson said her district has waived the usual $15 transcript fee for students and former students needing documents to apply for Deferred Action.
"We wanted to make sure that we removed any obstacles that Minneapolis Public Schools we would have to you getting that transcript and you moving forward with your application," she said.
Johnson hopes the federal program raises the graduation rate among such students by giving them hope of working legally in Minnesota after graduation.
The United States Citizen and Immigration Service has accepted 80,000 applications for Deferred Action so far from young people across the country.
Federal officials estimate that 1.7 million people living in the United States could qualify for the program.
Estimated number of transcript requests that have come into several Minnesota school districts since the Deferred Action program was announced June 15, 2012
• Minneapolis Public Schools: 350 to 400
• St. Paul Public Schools: more than 200
• Worthington School District: 75 to 80
• Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District: 32
• Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan: 25
• Anoka-Hennepin School District: 20