The president’s recent executive action to shield 5 million immigrants in the country illegally from deportation will need the renewed cooperation of community organizations to be successfully implemented, immigration activists said at a teleconference on Tuesday.
The Obama administration will create a program to grant deferred status to the parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents (DAPA), expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), and make it easier for the spouses and children of legal residents to obtain green cards.
The benefits of executive action will not be granted automatically, and those eligible for deferred action will file individual applications—which cost $465 apiece—for these programs. Activists worry that in addition to the cost, lack of knowledge of these programs would prevent executive action from having its full impact.
“We needed a cross-section effort to reach the community. More than two years into DACA, we still meet people every week who are eligible for DACA but haven’t heard of it yet, or didn’t realize they were eligible,” said Sally Kinoshita of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “Where their trusted leaders are really varies, and the ability to hear those messages again and again are critical.”
“When people came in to seek information, if they were screened for other immigration options, anywhere from 10 to 40 percent are already eligible for some existing immigration benefits, and some for more permanent benefits like a green card,” Kinoshita said.
The teleconference was attended by reporters from ethnic media outlets from across the country, and is part of an effort to spread information about the president’s new immigration program to those who don’t get their news from mainstream news outlets.
Beware the Notarios
Another problem immediately created by the news of any change in immigration policy are fraudulent consulting services, or notarios, that lure eligible beneficiaries of the new policy with false promises of an expedited path to legal status.
The earliest date to apply for the expanded DACA program is Feb. 20, said Marielena Hincapié of the National Immigration Law Center. “We need to send a clear message, there is no reason for them to start paying anyone for immigration services right now, especially if someone promises them they can get to the front of the line.”
The application date for DAPA is even further way, in May, said Hincapié, but those eligible for the program should start preparing now.
“Community members can start to prepare, includes obtaining documentation, any documents that have in their native language to be translated, proof of parental relationships,” she said. “If they have criminal conviction, get copies and get the legal advice they need of whether they would be eligible or not.”
A Stepping Stone
The speakers at the teleconference saw executive action not as a conclusion but as a stepping stone for future political activism on immigration reform.
“This is not substitute for legislation, only Congress can ultimately fix the system to protect all undocumented immigrants and families and make it easier for immigrants to come, easier in the future,” said Marshall Fitz of the Center for American Progress. He emphasized that the program could be revoked by a future president, but that hopefully by then the “political dynamic” had changed so that “it’s untenable to rescind or terminate this program.”
“We have seen that when people do have some additional status and benefit to being here in the U.S., when they have a government ID and work permit, the people do become more civically engaged, then they go out to push benefits for their parents as well, so they not only get immigration benefit but impact policies and laws,” Kinoshita said.