Should I lie to USCIS about working illegally to get my work permit?

Melissa writes, "I came to U.S. when I was 15. I'm currently in 3rd year in college. I'm living with my mother - who is also here illegally, and I did work off the books for the past year. I spoke with a lawyer and she told me that I should tell the truth about my income, and just explain it below, that I'm working off the books in order to support myself, and this will be enough proof that I need the work permit.  She also mentioned a few times that she cannot tell me to lie to the immigration services.  I have a lot of doubt on whether to tell the truth, and say on the application that I work off the books, or should I write that my income is zero, and that my parents support me. If I make the second choice, isn't that going to affect my parents, who are here illegally and work off the books as well?  I'm really confused.  We only get one chance to send the application; I don't want to miss my chance of being here at least half legally."

Merely holding odd jobs maybe looked upon leniently by the USCIS:  I have been hearing about a lot of very complex cases, but yours appear to be somewhat simpler and easier.  I am assuming that you have been working without using a fake or stolen Social Security number, which by itself is a separate crime (and the penalties are much more serious).  So, if all you have done is work without authorization, you have simply broken one of the laws (and probably one that is more likely to condone particularly if you worked odd jobs here and there in a restaurant or small business), and not two, as many DREAMers have done.

My understanding is that whatever you report in your forms is not going to affect anyone else in your family.  That is a commitment from the USCIS.  So your actions have no impact on your parents.  People who need to worry more are your employers, who have broken many US laws and can be fined.

If my assumption is correct that you have been working without a false SSN, it would be fine to apply, show your actual income, and then explain in the notes section, something like, "In order to defray some of the costs of college after financial hardship in my family, I have been working part-time since (enter date).

Being illegally in the country and working without authorization are serious crimes and typically most immigration benefits are denied to them:  Remember that everything that you say in the application can be cross-checked by the USCIS and you maybe ordered to verify or to provide evidence for anything that the prosecutor has doubts about.  So obviously every time you break the law, there is a risk that you maybe punished for it (alternatively, it would not be surprising for the prosecutors to ignore this because this is only a deferral and your status is not being legalized).  The risk that you and others have is that by voluntarily admitting to your crime, you are creating a record in your alien file and some of this may come to bite you later on.  While your case is one of relatively low risk, my advice for people like you is that if you can wait for a few months, you should.  It will be good to find out what happens to those who took the risk of confessing their crimes.  If they are denied, you would have saved hundreds of dollars and your hope would be a piece of legislation that not only grants you legal status but also forgives crimes like working without authorization.  On the other hand, if we learn that USCIS is not penalizing those who worked without papers, you can submit your application.  In the meantime, you can start compiling all the documents that you will need.  There is no end date for this program and it will continue as long as Obama is president.