Good news! This morning Immigration Judge Bertha Zuniga signed orders administratively closing the removal cases of both Luis and Raul Ortiz.
Good news! This morning Immigration Judge Bertha Zuniga signed orders administratively closing the removal cases of both Luis and Raul Ortiz.
The latest USCIS DACA numbers from March show that the agency has received roughly 470,000 applications, which means that just under half of those estimated to be eligible have applied. While the success reflected by the 470,000 figure is not to be downplayed, the new numbers beg the question: What about the other half million? Why are they still unDACAmented?
Hard data isn’t available yet, but the organizations working tirelessly to help young people apply for DACA believe that a large percentage of eligible immigrants are living in rural America, which presents them with a range of challenges. Estimates show that roughly one quarter of all DREAMers live in rural communities and that upwards of half of them need to enroll in a qualifying adult education program to become DACA-eligible. If we hone in on the migrant farmworker population — which contains about 55,000 DREAMers – over 80%would need to take steps to meet the education requirement.
Apart from the educational hurdle, there is a substantial financial one. Migrant farmworkers generally earn a little over $11,000 a year, making the $465 DACA filing fee cost-prohibitive. As if these obstacles weren’t enough, itinerant farmworkers are particularly hard-pressed when it comes to producing evidence of continuous residence since June 15, 2007 (a requirement of the program) and gaining access to legal services.
Anecdotal evidence bolsters these conclusions. Recently, the Florida Dream Coalition, working in conjunction with volunteer law students from the University of Miami and Florida International University, organized several DACA workshops throughout central Florida. During the workshops, immigrants described the obstacles they faced to applying for DACA. Those living in rural communities provided consistent answers: they didn’t know about the program; they live far away from legal service providers; they fear that the government will try to deport them if they apply; they don’t meet the education requirement; and, above all, the application fee is too high. At the Gainesville DACA clinic, the Harvest of Hope Foundation, a non-profit providing migrant farmworkers with emergency and education services, pledged funds to cover the filing fees of local DACA applicants. Nearly every individual at the clinic that day needed financial assistance.
Lessons from North Carolina lend credence to the theory that there is an urban/rural divide within the applicant pool. If you compare USCIS figures to estimates produced by the Immigration Policy Center, it turns out that about 40-50% of the eligible DREAMer population has applied for DACA. Except in North Carolina. In North Carolina, roughly 16,500 out of an estimated 18,000 — 90% — have applied. What explains the disparity? Farmworker organizers report that North Carolina’s farmworker outreach network is exceptional. In which case, North Carolina may provide the model for effective DACA implementation throughout the country.
If indeed many of the remaining unDACAmented youth are in rural America, future outreach efforts must be targeted accordingly, placing appropriate emphasis on linking would-be applicants to qualifying adult education programs. It also means that the availability and accessibility of microloans and scholarships for DACA filing fees will play a make-or-break role for tens of thousands of individuals going forward.
Let’s not miss the silver-lining, however. If this hypothesis is correct, then outreach in urban areas has largely been a success. The impassioned, outspoken and social media-savvy DREAMers at organizations like United We Dreamand its affiliates deserve immense credit for getting the word out about DACA. Half a million applications in 8 months is no small feat. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the rural areas and getting those young people DACAmented.
Baylor University student Grecia Cantu will be allowed to live legally in the United States because of a immigration policy change enacted by President Barack Obama last summer.
Waco Tribune Herald by Cindy Culp
Grecia Cantu was thrilled to get a seat on a Baylor University bus that took students to cheer on the school’s football team at a bowl game in California in December.
But Cantu’s excitement soon turned to dread when she realized the bus would travel through several immigration checkpoints.
She remembers switching to a less visible seat and pretending to be asleep, figuring that was her best shot at avoiding detection if officials boarded. The only identification she could provide — a Mexican citizenship card — would have been a dead giveaway she was in the United States illegally.
“Luckily, the bus went right on through and I didn’t have to provide ID,” Cantu said. “But that’s only because I was under the protection of Baylor. It’s stuff like that I don’t have to worry about anymore.”
Cantu is one of nearly 200,000 young people who have received permission to live in the United States under a policy change established by President Barack Obama last summer. It was aimed at people brought here illegally as children by their parents.
The special permission is given for two years, with the promise of it being renewable for at least another two years after that.
Although it is not a permanent solution for young immigrants, it has allowed them to get a driver’s license and permission to work for the first time.
Locally, more 200 people have applied, said attorneys who have worked with such clients.
“I feel so normal now,” said Cantu, who asked that a different surname be used for this article to protect her parents from the threat of deportation. “I’m at such ease. I know now that if I do something accidentally, like run a stop sign, it will stay minor. It won’t lead to jail anymore.”
Cantu also can now use the business administration degree she will receive from Baylor in May. She is considering going through a teacher certification course this summer so she can pursue her original goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.
When Cantu graduated from University High School, her plan was to immediately enroll in Baylor’s school of education, with the help of several scholarships.
But after learning federal student aid wasn’t available to her because of her immigration status, she instead enrolled at McLennan Community College. Her academic performance there eventually earned her a full ride to Baylor.
Even then, Cantu had no assurance she would be able to use her degree because she didn’t have legal permission to work. She thought her only option might be to start her own marketing firm.
That changed in June, when Obama announced a policy that has become known as DACA, or deferred action for childhood arrivals. It allows certain young immigrants brought here as children to apply for legal permission to live here.
Cantu, now age 21, applied almost immediately. But because of processing glitches, she didn’t get her approval letter until early March.
Cantu’s twin 18-year-old brothers and her 26-year-old fiance also got approved. For her fiance, it means a chance to leave his restaurant job in pursuit of one that uses his media communications degree. Her brothers also are exploring newly available job offers, she said.
“We’re all just moving forward toward something better. . . . There’s nothing I want to take away from others,” Cantu said. “I just want to have the same opportunities as everyone else. I want to work and have a normal life.”
Waco attorneys Susan Nelson and Laura Hernandez have heard similar stories from dozens of other local residents. Nelson, who has a private practice that specializes in immigration cases, has helped about 60 people apply under DACA.
Nelson has volunteered at a clinic organized by Baylor Law School. It has helped about 150 people apply, she said.
Hernandez, who started and oversees the clinic, said those involved don’t hear how every application turned out. But so far, she has not heard of anyone being turned down.
Processing times generally have been good, Hernandez said. Most people have been approved about six weeks after their biometrics appointment, where fingerprints are taken.
“That may seem like a long time,” Hernandez said. “But that is like lightning speed for (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).”
Participation in the clinic has been lower this spring, as compared to the fall, Hernandez said. That follows a national pattern.
USCIS data shows October was the peak month for applications, with 117,213 submitted. That number dropped to 15,167 for the first half of February.
Those involved in the law school clinic are trying to get the word out to people who are eligible but have not yet applied. They are reaching out to churches, schools and organizations such as the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hernandez said.
Some people may be holding off in hopes Congress soon will come up with more permanent immigration reform, Nelson said. But attorneys are advising those who qualify to take advantage of DACA now. If a better solution eventually becomes available, people still can apply for it then, she said.
Two more clinics are being held this month. It takes an average of two hours to help each applicant fill out the necessary forms and go over the documentation they must submit with it, Nelson said.
“We give them a packet that is hopefully ready to go in the mail,” Nelson said. “We’ve still got (clinic) spots open and we’d like to fill them up.”
Services are offered for free but an appointment must be made to receive help. Appointments can be made by calling 888-497-0018 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming clinic dates are Thursday and Tuesday.
People are eligible for DACA help if they were less than 31 years old when the policy was announced in June, came to the United States before age 16; and have continuously lived in the country since June 2007.
Eligible applicants must also be in school, have graduated from high school or have a GED or been honorably discharged from the military. In addition, people must be free of convictions for a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors.
Free DACA Immigration Clinic
March 19 – April 9, 2013 - appointment required
Baylor Law School will be hosting free Clinics to assist undocumented young people who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program at the Law School on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from March 19 to April 9, 2013.
At the Clinics, law students, under the supervision of Professor Laura Hernandez and Adjunct Professor Susan Nelson, will assist applicants to prepare the forms and documents necessary to apply for benefits under the DACA program. The Baylor Law School Immigration Clinic will not provide any additional services after the Clinics.
In order to participate in the Clinics, applicants must call or email the Clinic and complete an “Applicant Information” form. NO WALK-INS.
Baylor Law School Immigration Clinic
888-497-0018Download DACA Applicant Info
You may ask why I am weighing in on school discipline issues. How does that relate to immigration?
For six months, I have been working with young people who are applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I have been appalled by the number of young people with misdemeanor convictions received for school discipline issues for which they most often plead guilty without legal representation. This causes problems and expense in the DACA process and in other areas of their lives.
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson has proposed changes to this system:
Ticketing for nonviolent misdemeanors forces students to go to court, Jefferson told the Senate Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday. In addition to being a waste of resources, he said, that practice makes it more difficult for students to turn their lives around. “What used to be, in our day, a trip to the principal's office now lands you in court,” he said. “We're overcriminalizing low-level, nonviolent offenses in the classroom ... and then they're on a path to our criminal justice system.”
I applaud Chief Justice Jefferson for taking on this important issue and proposing a solution.
See the complete story in the Texas Tribune by Maurice Chammah.
Immigration Impact by Wendy Feliz
Approximately 45% of those potentially eligible for the program have applied in the first six months.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued its latest data on the Obama Administration’s initiative that offers deferment from deportation and temporary work permits to young undocumented immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. In the first six months of the program (August 15–February 14),423,634 out of the roughly 936,933 immigrants between the ages of 15 and 30 who might immediately meet the requirements, have had their applications accepted for processing. In other words, approximately 45% of those potentially eligible for the program have applied in the first six months. In addition, since February, 199,460individuals have been approved for DACA and will receive two-year temporary work permits.
* * *
It’s likely that, in the next six months of the program, a range of challenges will arise which may impact application levels—levels which appear to already be tapering off. For example, some argue the first individuals to apply were the simplest, most straightforward cases. DACA applicants should continue to exercise discretion and only apply for the program if they meet the strict requirements, or if they have counsel that can assist and advise them on their eligibility. The American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center continues to update and publish practice advisories that deal with many of the most difficult legal issues arising in DACA cases.
Application levels to the program may also be affected in the coming months by the perception that national immigration reform legislation is likely to offer a more permanent legalization status. So why apply for DACA when something better is just around the corner? There is also the cost factor for applying, and the trust factor of handing over one’s personal information to immigration agencies. Both are likely to impact application numbers in the coming months. As the program continues to be implemented it is important to keep track of how DACA recipients move forward in their lives with their newly gained temporary legal status, and how the government process works and responds to challenges. Paying attention to both of these areas will tell us a lot about how a more permanent legalization program will shake out for both the applicants and the government agencies implementing it.
In updated guidance released this afternoon by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Obama Administration confirmed that recipients of deferred action are authorized to be in the United States and therefore considered to be “lawfully present” under federal immigration laws. The guidance should clarify the debate over whether beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are eligible for driver’s licenses. Acting under the belief that DACA recipients are not “lawfully present” under federal law, four states—Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, and Nebraska—have refused to issue driver’s licenses to DACA recipients.
Separately, the administration also released updated statistics on the DACA program. Through Thursday, USCIS had received 407,899 requests for deferred action (an average of 80,000 per month since the program began), of which 394,533 had been accepted and 154,404 approved. USCIS received an average of less than 1,500 requests per day in January, down from a high of more than 5,700 per day in October soon after the program began accepting applications. The majority of DACA recipients continue to hail from Mexico and reside in California.
Here is a copy of the Q&A article that ran in Tiempo this week:
Tiempo: Tell us about your experience with clients and immigration issues.
Nelson: My first encounter
with immigration law was when my husband and I adopted our daughter from Russia.
Although we are both lawyers, we needed help to navigate the complex
immigration process. After our experience with the adoption, I started
receiving calls from other attorneys and individuals who knew of my experience.
I began practicing immigration law beyond pro bono cases in 2003, and it is now
where I spend the majority of my time.
I like immigration law because it allows me to help people keep their families together. Many lawyers help pick up the pieces when families fall apart, but I work to help families who want to be together stay together. I am often frustrated by the current state of the law when I see deserving people whose families are being torn apart without remedy or recourse.
Tiempo: What is the difference between the Texas DREAM Act and the one that is being discussed in Washington?
Nelson: The Texas DREAM Act was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in 2001 and provides that all students, regardless of immigration status, may qualify for in-state tuition at Texas colleges or universities provided they have lived in Texas the three years leading up to high school graduation and resided in Texas the year prior to their enrollment in higher education.
The Texas Dream Act has succeeded by providing access to higher education for students who otherwise are unable to afford the increasing cost of attending college and by providing needed money to Texas colleges and universities. In the present legislature a bill has been filed that would repeal the Texas DREAM Act. Governor Perry hinted that he would veto such an attempt to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students, but I hope that this bill will never reach his desk.
The federal DREAM Act (The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) was first introduced in Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support but never became the law. If enacted, it would provide a path to permanent residence for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, who graduated from high school or obtained a G.E.D. in the U.S. and who have good moral character if they complete two (2) years of college or in the military.
Tiempo: What can be expected with the political climate on immigration now that President Obama has been re-elected?
Nelson: In recent years, attempts to fix our nation’s broken immigration laws have been hijacked by the anti-immigrant, anti-“amnesty” movement. I am hopeful there will be a change in the dynamics and an opportunity for Congress to make changes in our laws that will place the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are in the U.S. on a path to earning legal permanent residence.
Tiempo: Could you explain in a few words the Deferred Action decision from last year?
Nelson: In June of 2012, the Obama administration announced that it would accept requests for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This initiative is designed to temporarily suspend the deportation of young people residing unlawfully in the U.S who were brought to the United States as children, are attending or have graduated from U.S. schools and who have good moral character. Young people who are approved for DACA receive an Employment Authorization for 2 years that can be renewed as long as the DACA program continues, but it does not provide a path to permanent residence for these young people.
Tiempo: What cases have you dealt with recently regarding Deferred Action?
Nelson: I represent a number of clients with DACA cases. In addition, I provide direction to the Baylor Law School Immigration Clinic. We assisted 120 young people to complete applications in the Fall, and plan to have another DACA Clinic this Spring. Most DACA applicants receive approvals in about 3 months.
Tiempo: What is the current status of applications for immigrants who have been victims of a crime in McLennan County?
Nelson: In 2000, Congress created the U-Visa for victims of certain crimes in order to encourage undocumented victims to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
In order to apply for the U-Visa, a crime victim must first obtain a certification from a law enforcement agency, prosecutor or judge stating that they were the victim of a qualifying crime and that they cooperated with law enforcement.
There has been a problem in McLennan County in recent years. The Waco Police Department does not sign the required certifications but refers all requests to the District Attorney’s office.
District Attorney Abel Reyna has declined to sign all of the requests for certification that I submitted on behalf of crime victims, including one for a minor sexual abuse victim whose abuser is serving 35 years in prison because she and her mother came forward.
Fortunately, judges can also sign the certifications. Judge Ralph Strother recently signed the certification so that this brave young girl can apply for a U-Visa.
However, our judges cannot shoulder the entire burden. There is a need for the DA’s office and police departments to also sign the certifications, and I hope that they will reconsider their policies.
Tiempo: What can the community do to support the DREAM Act Alliance locally?
Nelson: The Waco DREAM Act Alliance is a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the DREAM act and immigrant rights. They meet regularly and support local DREAMers and their families. You can find them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/groups/WacoDREAM/ or on-line at www.wacodream.org.
You can also express your support for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform by contacting your congressional representatives and Senators. You can find your representative’s contact information at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. Your Senators’ contact information can be found at http://www.senate.gov/.
The Waco DREAM Act Alliance and national organization United We Dream are working to stop the deportations of family members of DACA eligible young people and U.S. Citizens. If you know of someone in deportation proceedings who fits into this category, they should complete a Case Questionnaire at http://unitedwedream.org/end/ and contact the Waco DREAM Act Alliance.
Tiempo: What is the new rule that effects the way that spouses of U.S. Citizens obtain their permanent residence?
Nelson: The Obama Administration is attempting to lift the burden of our broken immigration laws by making rules that change the process but not the law.
Under current law, many immigrants who enter the country without inspection cannot apply for permanent residence (a “green card”) in the U.S., and instead must finish the immigration process abroad. Unfortunately, for most people, just leaving the country—even to pick up a visa sponsored by a family member—automatically makes the intending immigrant subject to a penalty for their “unlawful presence,” potentially separating them from their family for up to ten years.
For some, but not all, the penalty can be waived. To be successful, applicants must show that denying the case would be an extreme hardship to their qualifying relative(s); the impact on the immigrant doesn’t count. Hardship factors can include family separation, economic hardship, medical issues, country conditions abroad, and any other difficulty or harm faced by the qualifying relative(s), if the waiver isn’t granted.
Under the old rule (which will continue to be the process for spouses of permanent residents), the applicant can not apply for the waiver until after they leave the U.S. and have their consular interview. They are required to wait in their home country while the waiver application is decided.
Immigrants can be stranded outside the U.S. for months or even years while waiting for a decision on whether they can return to their family. Many families endure the emotional strain, financial hardship and dangerous conditions of this waiver process. Others simply are unwilling to take the risk.
The new rule allows spouses of U.S. Citizens to apply for a provisional waiver of unlawful presence before they leave the U.S. for their consular interview. If they receive the provisional waiver, they will leave the U.S. to apply for their immigrant visa knowing in advance that their case will probably be approved, and they could be back with their families—as a legal resident—in a matter of weeks.
The new rule takes effect on March 4, 2013.
Susan I. Nelson is a Waco attorney and practices with her husband, Alan Nelson, in The Nelson Law Firm, P.C. She represents individuals and businesses in immigration cases and writes the Texas Immigration Lawyer Blog (www.centeximmigration.com) in which she provides news and opinions on immigration law and policy. Susan came to Waco in 1976 to attend Baylor University, and has been here since that time. She has practiced law in Waco since she graduated from Baylor Law School in 1990.
Baylor Line by Meg Cullar
Please sign the END Petition for Raul Ortiz-Garcia who will be deported on January 9, 2013, unless ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion.