Photo: Erin Pangilinan. Author with DREAM Activists Jose Antonio Vargas, JB Librojo, and Catherine Eusebio
Last June, President Barack Obama issued a directive, dubbed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that would protect undocumented immigrant youth from deportation for up to two years (with a possibility of renewal for another two years) and authorize legal work permits. On Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officially opened the application for the program.
The Migration Policy Institute
and the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the initiative can benefit as many
as 1.7 million people. To qualify, applicants must meet a series of requirements, including age, education, and residency length,
as well as have a clean criminal record. Applicants must also submit to
biometrics and background checks.
Although estimates vary on how many people will apply, some advocates still have concerns that the DHS will fail to protect applicant information and put many applicants and their families at risk for deportation. DHS denies this will happen.
“Information will not be shared with enforcement. Confidentiality should be protected...but serious offenders who pose threat to public safety, [their] case will be referred to ICE for immigration enforcement,” a DHS official said in a call last week.
The DHS official said that anyone suspected of fraud is likely to receive an interview from a fraud specialist from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and would also be turned over to law enforcement for a criminal investigation.
Because of this, immigrant rights advocates have encouraged communities to seek legal consultation, since any individual who “engages in fraud will be referred to ICE and will be treated as a priority case,” according to a senior administration official on Tuesday.
The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), based in Los Angeles, hopes to address the concerns of those who believe applicant information may be abused.
“Families are concerned about confidentiality,” Stewart Kwoh, APALC’s executive director, said in a press conference last week. “We are working with organizations and legal staff with issues of misinformation. We will have assurance that this will be a confidential process.”
Regardless of these risks, many DREAM Activists and immigration advocates are encouraging more people to apply.
Echoing the slogan popularized by early immigrant youth activists like the late Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix, whose memorial book was released by the UCLA Labor Center last month, recent UC Berkeley alumnus Catherine Eusebio declared proudly at Pistahan, San Francisco’s annual Filipino American festival on August 11 to 12, that she was “undocumented and unafraid.”
At the University of California, nearly 40 percent of the students who could benefit from DREAM Act are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Filipino Americans have the highest undocumented youth population among all AAPI groups.
Eusebio stood alongside two other prominent Filipino American immigrant rights activists, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who founded advocacy group Define American, and Jose Librojo, who is currently facing deportation.
“In the Filipino American community, whenever we talk about undocumented people, what do we use the term as? Tago Ng Tago (TNT), which means hiding and hiding,” Vargas, who served as grand marshal of the festival, said. “I’m tired of hiding...I grew up in this country, was schooled in this country, paid taxes in this country. This is my home and I wanted to claim the fact that I’m American. I’m a Filipino American and I am not TNT and I am not hiding. ...The time for our community to be afraid, to not want to talk about this is over."
Some undocumented immigrant activists are trying to boost applications because they fear that there will be a low number of applications out of all those who are eligible, and think this would be counterproductive toward the immigrant rights movement.
“We need to come out,” Sofia Campos, co-chair of the non-profit group United We Dream, said during a conference call last week. “Our families are being deported and separated everyday. Yet no one is speaking for them because no one is sharing our stories and communities. We need to keep each other accountable and hold them together.”
Advocates have already expected that the sheer cost of a single DACA application, a whopping $465, would curb the number of applications submitted. The application fee was set high so that DACA would be a self-funded program. Thus, various organizations, including the Mission Asset Fund and Public Interest Projects, launched fundraising efforts to help undocumented youth pay the application fee.
Many AAPI nonprofit organizations report that they are already flooded with youth applicants seeking assistance.
Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) California affiliates, APALC and Asian Law Caucus (ALC) have had 250 people seek free legal services in San Francisco and Los Angeles alone. The Korean Resource Center has received over 800 calls to their hotline and they, along with Radio Korea, will be holding more information and consultation sessions for an expected 450 youth. The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) has also received hundreds of calls since July.
While Obama has called the directive “a temporary stop-gap measure” and USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas has said that DACA “does not provide lawful status or a path to citizenship," most immigrant rights activists see the administration’s policy as passing the litmus test for progress towards the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform in the future. Such legislation remains contentious in Congress today, and Obama can use this policy to court the Latino and AAPI vote for the 2012 election.
Some have worried that if Obama is not re-elected for a second term, DACA could be reversed. Obama’s supporters have called on immigrant communities to get out the vote to defend the policy.
“The fact of the matter is deferred action is happening thanks to President Obama’s leadership, and for no other reason,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), the Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and co-chair of the Obama Re-Elect Campaign. “If it were up to Congress, Republicans would block it. They already have repeatedly with the DREAM Act. If it were up to Mitt Romney, he has already said he wants to make life for undocumented immigrants so bad that they are forced to self-deport.”
Despite his inability to vote, Vargas also urged communities to vote in this November election. “It is also important that as a community that we become civically involved and register to vote,” he said.
At Pistahan, Vargas’s non-profit organization, Define American, shot video testimonials of immigrant stories among festival attendees. Next to the Define American table, KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress-San Francisco Bay Area Chapter and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA)-San Francisco Chapter registered people for November's polls.
More information on DACA, legal services, workshops, & funding:
The Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) - Affiliates Asian Law Caucus (ALC) in San Francisco and Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) offer free legal services for deferred action applicants
Asian Law Alliance - Deferred Action Workshop/Orientation
Orientation 6 PM, Workshop by Appt
Yu-Ai Kai 588 N. 4th St, San Jose, CA 95112 RSVP (408) 287-9710
Korean Resource Center (KRC) - Los Angeles Information
DACA Application Forum - Sat, August 18, 10AM – 4PM
Where: Glory Church of Jesus Christ, 1801 S. Grand Ave, LA, CA 90015 (주님의 영광 교회 10 FWY-Grand Ave Exit) Contact: Keish Kim (email@example.com) / Yaechan Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund (AALDEF) - Servicing New York and New Jersey
August 25: National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC MD) Dream Act and Deferred Action Education Forum @ 8PM EST, Washington Korean Spencerville Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 15930 Good Hope Road, Silver Spring, MD 20905 (Contact: Dong Yoon Kim, email@example.com)
United We Dream
We Own The Dream - Project of America’s Voice
Practice Advisory for Criminal Defenders: Certain Criminal Offenses May Bar Persons from Applying for the New Deferred Action Status Program Announced by President Obama. This advisory reviews the general requirements of the DACA program to help defenders identify eligible clients. It outlines defense strategies to preserve a client’s possible eligibility for DACA
Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) New & Updated Materials on Criminal Bars to DACA: Chart
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!