A coalition of DREAM Act students and allies encouraged eligible undocumented immigrants to apply for relief from deportation and for temporary work permits Wednesday in Austin. The group, called the University Leadership Initiative, also sounded a warning to protect immigrants from being ripped off by predatory lawyers.
It was part of a national Day of Action spearheaded by United We Dream, a network of youth-led immigrant organizations. The groups celebrated U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ release of the long-awaited Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications two months after the Obama administration announced the policy.
More than 1 million undocumented immigrants are estimated to benefit from the new policy, which grants a temporary reprieve from deportation as well as a two-year work permit to those approved. According to an Immigration Policy Center analysis, 152,550 unauthorized immigrants in Texas currently qualify for deferred action. Texas is second only to California, where 298,030 people qualify.
Diana Morales, secretary for the University Leadership Initiative, says she and many other members of the organization are beginning the application process themselves.
“Right now I don’t know of anybody who has actually turned in their application just because of the length of the process and the extra things [that are required],” she says.
Though the six-page application doesn’t include particularly difficult or tricky questions, Morales says applicants want to make sure they get everything exactly correct. At $465 per application and without the possibility of an appeal, it’s no surprise applicants are being cautious.
“We’re trying to fill out the applications, not as quickly as we can, but taking the time to make sure everything we are putting is correct,” Morales says.
Some attorneys, notaries public and others are exploiting this fear of making mistakes on applications and advertising help with filling them out at outrageous prices. The coalition wanted to make others aware of this during their event Wednesday.
“Right away after [the announcement] a lot of lawyers in Austin, in Houston and other parts of the country are saying they can fill out their application if they pay them $5,000 or a very expensive price,” Morales says. “Some people were already paying those $5,000 and there wasn’t even an application yet. They were doing this already in June and July and the application is barely coming out now. We had to get the word out and not let people fall prey to this kind of unethical lawyers.”
Morales says these lawyers and others bought TV and newspaper ads and that University Leadership Initiative reached out to a few and asked them to stop.
In addition to completing the forms, potential qualifiers must submit documents proving they meet all the requirements. Morales says the University Leadership Initiative is now recommending everyone get Mexican passports from their local consulate if they don’t already have one, as passports are the most legitimate form of identification undocumented immigrants can obtain, and photo identification is required.
The organization has already held one educational forum to address questions and concerns, and they plan to hold another one August 25th. Morales says one of the most frequent questions is whether U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can use information provided by applicants against them, especially if their applications are rejected. She says she, too, was afraid of applying for this reason until the agency posted a FAQ section assuring applicants their information will not be provided to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection for deportation purposes.
The Obama Administration hasn’t given an expiration date yet for the new policy. Many wonder whether it will be in effect indefinitely or whether there is a limited window during which it will be available to eligible immigrants. The Immigration Policy Center found that 74,150 people in Texas, currently aged 5-14, could be future beneficiaries of the policy.
As they learn more about the policy and its implications, Morales says the coalition will continue to hold events to educate and help their community. Juana Guzman, the organization’s president, says they will also hold clinics to assist people in putting together applications, with attorneys present to answer questions and help guide applicants along the process.