At the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles, (CHIRLA), Jorge-Mario Cabrera has been witnessing thousands of Dreamers bringing mom, dad, abuelita, siblings and even their beloved dogs and cats, Cabrera says with a smile – to get help applying for deferred action. In the last couple of weeks, he says, over 37 thousand, mainly Latino families, have been accessing information through meetings, webinars and phone calls.
“I would describe the Dreamers as cautiously jubilant,” says Cabrera. “This deferred action has provided hope, and it is wonderful to see how willing immigrants are to pay money and go through extensive paperwork to prove how much they want to stay and be an integral part of the country they love,” he says.
Two days into the release of the deferred action application, immigrant groups are by and large positive about the way the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has made the application and the information available, exactly two months after President Obama‘s June 15th announcement of the policy change.
“USCIS has met our expectations, and Director Alejandro Mayorkas deserves recognition for making things happen on a short timeline,” says Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). Mayorkas, a Cuban-American, has drawn largely praise for what activists say has been a very streamlined rollout of the new policy.
As the nation saw images of tens of thousands of Dreamers and young adults lining up to get information and help on how to apply for deferred deportation, the question is whether USCIS is ready for what could be a large number of applications, which Dreamers are mailing in to be processed in four centers around the country. Today, a spokesperson at USCIS said that the agency had hired increased personnel to process the applications, and the hiring is expected to be largely paid for by the $465 application fee. Though the agency did not give out personnel numbers, immigration groups heard as many as 1,500 people may be hired if needed. USCIS expects to have a better sense of how many Dreamers are applying in the next two weeks.
Documentation is more extensive than originally thought, say immigration groups
The documentation required, however, is more rigorous and definitely takes longer to gather than most people originally thought, explains CHIRLA’s Cabrera. “I would say only about half of the applications we saw were ready to be sent,” he says. Cabrera explains that a Dreamer has to show documentation to prove they were in the U.S. before the age of sixteen, and they also have to show proof of five continuous years of residency in the U.S. “Even a picture proving you were in a certain place at a certain date, or a vaccine record would work, but sometimes Dreamers don’t have these things, and it takes longer to find proof,” Cabrera explains. It is easier for the older undocumented young adults under 31 who might have tax returns, but it is harder for the younger Dreamers, he adds.
It is important to note, says Hincapié, that the work to be done is extensive. “Due to the economy, many non-profits have cut down on staff and resources, and yet we have been coordinating an enormous amount of legal representation to help the applicants, so it’s a huge job,” she says.
What Dreamers should not do, according to immigration groups and the USCIS, is pay for “immigration consultants” or “notarios” to gather documentation. “There are ‘lagartos’ and ‘inescrupulosos’ who are gathering like piranhas, charging Dreamers money to translate a birth certificate or document, something immigration groups and some immigration attorneys are doing for free,” he explains.
Keeping track of the application
Hincapié says Dreamers should get confirmation within ten days of receipt of their application, and they will also get notices if their application needs additional documentation. The applicant will also get a chance to follow the status of their application online.
If a qualified Dreamer has the application ready to go with all the appropriate documentation, Hincapié recommends sending it as early as possible. “Since there are not as many applications in right now, the process would be faster.”
“Night and Day” difference from ICE
CHIRLA’s Cabrera says the largely orderly and positive process is due to the fact that “resources were spent on a process which gives families a chance to pay and apply in a sensible way, and does not focus on punishment or enforcement,” he says. “It’s night and day from the way ICE operates,” he says.
In the meantime, National Immigration Law Center’s Marielena Hincapié says this process could be “a good rehearsal for the Dream Act.”