It's a new program, so it's not surprising that I got a whole collection of different answers when I asked the USCIS hotline a specific question regarding eligibility for the new Dream Scheme program, the one offering deferred action to relatively young people currently in illegal status.
Not surprising, but not reassuring either.
Here's the scenario I outlined to six different hotline responders yesterday: "I have a friend from Mexico who is now 20. He crossed the Rio Grande in 2005 by himself at age 14, just north of Eagle Pass, Texas. He has a high school diploma and a clean police record. He has never left the United States since 2005. Is he eligible though he came in by himself, and was not brought by family members?"
First the good news. Every time I called there was someone there to talk to me; despite the huge collection of eligibles, they are not calling USCIS, at least not yet. You can try it yourself at 1-800-375-5283, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. weekdays.
I got varying substantive responses to my question, and the quality of the responses (i.e., the competence on the other end of the phone) ranged wildly.
First, I heard from a native English speaker who was self-confident; she was quite sure that my friend, we will call him Juan, was eligible whether he came in alone or with family.
Second, there was another native English speaker with either no self-confidence or a lower IQ who eventually figured that he did not know the answer and after some mumbling he switched me to another customer service representative.
The third person told me, in response to a query of mine, that she answered questions in both English and Spanish. She said, at first, that Juan was eligible, but checked a little further, and said that he probably was not eligible, but that it was a new program and maybe an exception could be made for him.
I suspect she was right, on both counts. She was the most impressive of the people on the phone.
Fourth was an Asian woman whose English was quite limited. Instead of facing the question I raised she went into a routine, reading me a section of the USCIS memorandum that simply said, among other things, that the eligibles "have come to the United States under the age of 16." She did not read it very well.
When I repeated the question about Juan's lonesome status at entry, she at first had no firm answer except that I should consult the local office of USCIS. She then said that Juan was eligible. I asked to speak to her supervisor. She said that she would talk to her supervisor while I was put on hold; she came back on the phone to say that her supervisor agreed with her that Juan was eligible. She was the least impressive of the informants.
The fifth respondent was another native English speaker; she seemed to understand that she did not know the answer and without too much delay she handed me off to another person.
That sixth person, also good with English, said that Juan was probably eligible, but that "they're still working out the details of the program."
Bear in mind that the second paragraph of Secretary Napolitano's memorandum starts with these words "Effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States …".
And the recorded part of the response to the 1-800 number starts out "If you were brought to the United States as a child …".
Despite these apparent statements of policy — that you had to be brought here by family members — three of the telephone people said that Juan was eligible, two did not know, and only one seemed to get it right.
I know it is early days, and that this is just a series of anecdotes, but the mix of responses was worrisome.