Rush to Action
Thousands drawn to new program
Vida en el Valle
(Published Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 11:08AM)
SACRAMENTO -- They came out of the shadows by the thousands last Wednesday.
President Obama signed an executive order exempting qualified, undocumented youths from deportation. It went into effect on Aug. 15, and those qualified for the deferred action program turned out throughout the country. The program will not provide legal status or a path to citizenship.
An estimated 13,000 lined up at the Navy Pier in Chicago, the largest gathering of deferred action-eligible youth.
A few thousand showed up at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Ángeles (CHIRLA) to pick up applications.
Photo info: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times
Mexican Consulate offices throughout the country, including those in Sacramento and Fresno, experienced a rush of people who wanted to obtain identity documents needed for their applications.
The program offers a glimpse of hope for DREAMers, but many lawyers are weary their enthusiasm may cause them to make a mistake on their application -- a process that does not allow room for errors. Department of Homeland Security officials announced last Wednesday there will be no appeals process if an application is denied, leaving very little room for mistakes or incomplete applications.
"The application itself is easy to fill out. I doubt it will take anyone longer than 10 minutes, but the supporting documentation that must be provided is another story," said Kristina McKibben, an attorney with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in Sacramento.
McKibben and colleague Santiago Ávila-Gómez are among several immigration lawyers and specialists who are hosting English-language informational workshops on deferred action at the Mexican Consulate in Sacramento.
"I am urging my clients and all students who are eligible for this program to package their application very well. But, in my opinion, the most difficult part of this application is going to be providing the documentation that proves they have been in the country continuously for the last 5 years," said McKibben.
Hours after Obama signed his order in June, local and national organizations mobilized to launch a series of workshops, webinars, teleconferences and informational sessions to get the correct information out.
Most spread the word through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. National organizations like the United Farm Workers and United We Dream began posting information about the deferred action program and the application process by providing links to resources and lawyers. The information was consistently updated as more details became available from federal officials.
In Sacramento, the Mexican Consulate began a series of free, bilingual workshops at the start of August. Every Wednesday afternoon, local immigration lawyers have provided information to students and their families who stand to benefit from the program.
The first workshop welcomed 322 people, a trend that continues. Because reservations are required to attend, consulate staff has added additional workshops to accommodate the growing number of people seeking to attend.
The Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals form was released last Wednesday online and at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices.
Photo info: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times
Under the guidelines, applicants:
Must have come to the United States before they turned 16.
Be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.
Must have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.
Have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15.
Have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school; have obtained a general education development certificate; or, are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.
Not have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
The $465 application fee will cover the administrative costs of the program. Successful applicants will get a work authorization document that will be good for two years.
California DMV officials said last week that the deferred action youth would be able to apply for a driver's license, but later reversed course a few days later in saying the issue is being reviewed.
The Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates that as many as 1.7 million youths may qualify for the program.
The application released Wednesday states that passports, military records, school transcripts, medical bills and birth certificates will be acceptable forms of proving identity and residency, though that may be troublesome for many undocumented immigrants.
"What the program fails to acknowledge is that many of the students who are eligible for this program have been living underneath the radar so to speak and they have maintained their distance in the public eye due to fear of deportation," said McKibben. "Many do not have some or all of the documents USCIS is requesting so it's going to be an extremely difficult feat for many to prove they have been here continuously without interruption."
She suggests applicants look at every possible document that could prove their presence in the United States, like bank statements or receipts.
Another cause for worry is the threat of immigration consultants overcharging for helping those that are eligible fill out the application and gather the supporting documentation.
The Mexican Consulate in Sacramento compiled a list of the best immigration attorneys and specialists in northern California, based on a number of criteria including the number of years in practice, success rate in immigration cases, recommendations and personal research so those who seek legal help, turn to a lawyer instead of an immigration consultant.
According to McKibben, most of the lawyers the consulate recommends have committed to charging only $100 per consultation for deferred action applicants.
"It's a bargain if you ask me. Lawyer fees can be really expensive so this amount is extremely reasonable and I encourage all those who have questions or have any doubt about their status and how it may affect their application; I urge them to seek a lawyer. The last thing they want is their application denied," said McKibben.
She also cautions eligible youth that if they have had any problem with law enforcement, to consult with a lawyer.
"I had a client who has never had a problem with the law, but was once asked by a police officer if he had a gang name. He now fears that name will appear on a list somewhere that could negatively impact his application. I am weary that immigration consultants may overlook issues like this so it's best a lawyer examine their case carefully," said McKibben.
Pablo Rodríguez, founding executive director of Communities for a New California Education Fund, a non-profit organization based in Sacramento with roots in the Central and Coachella Valleys, is also gearing up to conduct a series of workshops on deferred action.
Photo info: MICHAEL REYNOLDS/Agencia EFE
"We know that in California, about 400,000 students stand to benefit from this program and we knew this before it was announced because of our previous work with DREAMers so now we are focusing much of our energy on visiting the rural communities where information about this program may not be as accessible to people," said Rodríguez.
As part of their efforts, they successfully applied for grant money, which was used to hire Oday Guerrero as an intern. Guerrero, a UC Irvine graduate and founder of the Central Valley Dream Team, attended deferred action training in Denver last week.
Rodríguez said the group will determine where to hold workshops.
"For me, it's about helping these students navigate their way through this tedious process as effectively as possible without falling victim to scams or fraud. We want to provide the right help and be as resourceful as we can in our outreach efforts," said Rodríguez.
His plan for Guerrero comes with high expectations.
"We chose Oday because she embodies what most of these students who are applying for this program embody. She is a high-achieving Latina who graduated from college, is very goal oriented and is a fine example of what it means to be a DREAMer. She is successful in anything she puts her mind to and I am sure she will carry that on when she begins to conduct workshops throughout the valley," said Rodríguez.
Forms and instructions for the application are posted at www.uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals.