By Noel Andersen
CWS, along with so many service organizations and immigrants’ rights advocates, celebrates Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) announced June 15 by President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano. However, we know that this is an impermanent solution, and that we must continue to work towards passing the DREAM Act to fully embrace and welcome these talented young people into our communities.
DACA will provide work permits and relief from deportation for youth who meet the requirements. CWS and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition have been working on this for a long time, following the lead of DREAM Act youth organizing to make DACA happen. In our DREAM Sabbath of 2011 CWS member denominations held hundreds of educational forums on the DREAM Act in their local congregations, broadening the awareness and moving people to action and advocacy.
The need for legal services in applying to DACA is tremendous and exponential as more eligible youth come forward. Within the first month of the program, which began on August 15, 82,000 youth applied for DACA and that number will continue to grow. There are approximately 900,000 that can currently apply to the program, but as many as 1.76 million youth eventually will have the. CWS is providing immigration legal services to hundreds of eligible youth across the country, responding to the great need for more accredited legal counsel in this process.
CWS’ program offices in New York, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are representing individuals throughout the filing process, ensuring that requests are properly filed containing the necessary supporting documents.
“Requesting DACA is not as simple as completing the appropriate forms,” explained Tara Pinkham, Esq, CWS’ Associate Director for Immigration. “Information that is included with a DACA request may affect an individual’s eligibility to receive a future immigration benefit, like a green card. It is important to seek legal advice from a seasoned practitioner who can provide a full assessment of the individual’s immigration circumstances and appropriately advise the individual on the best course of action.” CWS urges people to protect themselves from fraud and abuse and to only receive legal services from individuals authorized to practice immigration law. Only attorneys and BIA accredited representatives employed by a BIA-recognized agency are authorized to practice immigration.
CWS refugee resettlement offices and member denominations will continue to help with legal services. Unfortunately, some DACA eligible youth are waiting to make sure it is safe to apply. They are still nervous about the impermanence of deferred action and the looming presidential election, the results of which might result in a reversal of the DACA policy. Immigration practitioners continue to have procedural and legal questions about DACA, but the U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services is continually offering more clarity and guidance at USCIS FAQ on DACA.
CWS legal services and congregations will continue to assist the DACA youth in the submission process. However, we also know that two years of work permits and relief from deportation is not enough. We must continue to organize and advocate to pass the DREAM Act and humane immigration reform.
A pathway towards citizenship is needed for full integration to be possible; this is best not only for immigrants, but also for local communities and economies. A University of California of Los Angeles study called No DREAMers Left Behind from Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda and others found that removing the uncertainty of unauthorized status allows New Americans to earn higher wages and encourages them to invest more in their own education, open bank accounts, buy homes, and start businesses. The presence of new workers and consumers spurs economic growth by investing in new restaurants, stores, and production facilities leading to more jobs for all workers.
The direct service work of CWS and the grassroots organizing efforts of congregations at the local level are turning the tide and the political landscape is shifting towards full inclusivity. For information on how to volunteer to assist youth in the DACA submission process, contact your local CWS Immigration Refugee Program office and check out We Own the DREAM website.
Noel Andersen is Church World Service Grassroots Coordinator for Immigrants’ Rights, based in Washington, D.C.