Young Undocumented Immigrants Begin Renewing Deferred Action Permits
June 11, 2014 1:09 p.m.
Lilia Velasquez, Immigration Attorney
Alondra Garcia, Organizer, Own the Dream Campaign
TOM FUDGE: You're listening to Midday Edition, I am Tom Fudge. It's called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, for short. It allows undocumented immigrants under thirty-one years old to enjoy temporary legal status in the US. Immigrants qualify for DACA if they arrived in the country before they were sixteen years old. The idea is to allow foreign children who came here with their parents to keep living in the United States. The program has energized many young Latinos and it has given them the dream of eventually becoming US citizens, hence the common nickname, dreamers. Now, the Obama administration is giving the chance for dreamers to renew DACA status, and we will take that opportunity to chat a little bit about DACA, and how the program is going. Joining me to do that are Alondra Garcia and Lilia Velasquez. Alondra is the lead San Diego organizer for the Own the Dream Campaign, and she was granted DACA rights when year ago. Thank you very much for coming in. Lilia is an immigration attorney in San Diego, thank you for coming in. Lilia, how would you sum it up when it comes to describing what the DACA program does and the effects it has?
ALONDRA GARCIA: It really has had a huge transformation on all of the dreamers who are in the shadows. They got work permits, they got incorporated into the economic system, not only do we have social inclusion, we also have a lot of students have become politically renovated and have become active in the community. It is safe now, to come out and have a voice and participate. From my perspective, nothing strengthens the democracy more than having the youth getting involved in government, and how the government operates and how they contribute to the government.
TOM FUDGE: Alondra, tell us a little bit of your story. You became a dreamer, a year ago, prior to that did you grow up in San Diego?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: Yes, I was brought the United States at the age of four by my mother, because Mexico, the part of where I grew up in, they were kidnapping girls. They kidnapped five girls prior to the weekend to us living into the new neighborhood, so what she would do, she would take me to work. She worked at a restaurant, so she would actually put me under cabinets so that coworkers would not get mad. She could not let me at home because she was afraid that I would be one of the girls to get kidnapped. We never found out with having to the girls that got kidnapped. There was a lot of speculation on them being trafficked over for organs or just for drugs. My mom took the courageous move of gathering up all the money that she could come and actually leaving her mother behind because she cannot afford to pay for all three of us. She made a courageous move in that brave move to bring me into the United States, that she knew I would be safe here.
TOM FUDGE: How old were you at that time?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: Four years old.
TOM FUDGE: What made you decide to sign up for DACA?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: The Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals Program got enacted in June 2012, at first I did not really sign up for the program is I did not know what time it would be taken away. I did not know much about the program itself, no one was really informing the community about it. I did a lot of research on it, and I found there a lot of lawyers that were really scamming the community and I actually encountered a couple of lawyers, one that charged me a ridiculous amount of money. So the money was definitely an issue for me, because I was undocumented, I was a college student, and at the time there was no financial aid and no state tuition. At the time I was paying a lot of money for my college education, I had to decide whether I could continue going to college or continue paying my rent. It was either college, rent, or my DACA application, so I chose my DACA application and did not go to college that semester.
TOM FUDGE: And since then, what has changed in your life?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: There has been a lot of changes, including me getting a social security number. I was able to quit my under the table job, at that time I was getting paid under the table. I was working at another job with my number so I could still do my taxes. I've always been doing my taxes even when I started working at age 18, but really it was more of using my degree that I wanted were a job that I knew I could get without having a fear of employees say no because I was undocumented.
TOM FUDGE: You have Social Security, do you have a drivers license?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: I have my work permit, I love public transportation, I'm not a big fan of cars, but I am getting my license because I know I need it.
TOM FUDGE: Lilia, what sort of stories have you heard from folks? Are they saying now I can go to college, get a drivers license, tell us.
ALONDRA GARCIA: It really motivated kids that were hesitant about going on to higher education because now they feel legitimized and they feel like they can pursue higher education, and they completed degrees, and now they can put the degrees to work. They can pay taxes safely, they have a Social Security, and is something as mundane, as one client told me, Lilia, I finally went to Disneyland. It was a checkpoint that always stood in the way. He is twenty-eight and finally made that trip. I think that the kids really felt empowered, and they have dreams for bigger things. Having said that, they are also very concerned about the future.
TOM FUDGE: Let me ask you a question about how many people have signed up for DACA. When the program was launched two years ago, there were big expectations. It was estimated there might be as many as 1.4 million people who could benefit from this, but only about 500,000 have been granted temporary status. Who is DACA not reaching?
ALONDRA GARCIA: I think from my experience, and I did file hundreds of DACA applications on behalf of clients, the numbers are low. Some of them didn't get a diploma. My mom said, finish high school education, and they didn't, and now they cannot apply for DACA. Some of them got here when they were over sixteen, and missed the mark. Others do not have fifteen years of age yet, others had a DUI in were disqualified. I'm not sure how they came up with a 1.4 million estimate, but so far we only have a third of the cases approved.
TOM FUDGE: To you said, if people don't have high school education they cannot apply for DACA?
ALONDRA GARCIA: That is correct. If they are still high school students in the tenth grade, they do qualify, they need the other requirements. But if they are over eighteen, they did not finish high school and they did not sign up for the GED certificate, they do not qualify.
TOM FUDGE: Alondra, how would you like to follow up?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: Well, my job is not based on doing the legal aspects, but I do outreach to a lot of communities that are very poor. One of the things that I found, through the campaign we found a lot of people are not applying for deferred action because they are still under the assumption that it is a dreamer only type of thing. So when you go and you talk to people who do qualify for DACA, you find a lot of them did drop out of high school because they could not go on to high school because they thought if they were undocumented they did not have a future in this country. When we find these people that have applied, it is not because they did not graduate because they did not want to come is because they got pregnant and had a kid. When we outreach these people and told them if you enroll in GED programs, you are eligible for DACA. Even if you did not graduate, that does not halt your application, it just means go and register for a GED program and then you are able to qualify for the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals.
TOM FUDGE: Are there any people who are afraid to apply for DACA because they have been living in the shadows and they feel if they come out they feel that they will not qualify and be identified and might be deported, Lilia, is that a question for you?
ALONDRA GARCIA: Yes it is, and the answer I give some of my clients, some of them were reluctant, I said look, it is established US immigration service policy not to refer any cases for prosecution in less the person is a criminal, or a threat to society or the public, therefore it is safe for you to apply. I do not expect mass deportation to take place if DACA were not continued in the future.
TOM FUDGE: Let's talk about the renewal process, because that is why we're here talking about DACA, Alondra, are you going to renew your DACA status?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: I am. I'm going to renew in November 2014 because that is five months prior to my expiration date.
TOM FUDGE: So your expiration date is two years after you qualified?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: Yes.
TOM FUDGE: Are most people in the same situation?
ALONDRA GARCIA: Yes, it's really a moving deadline. One of the first approvals came through in September 2012. This is why this month they can apply because the five months are up. We're really encouraging kids not to leave things for maÒana. Let's do it now, because the government is a huge bureaucracy. It will take them time to process all of these applications, there will be a huge influx. If they are working and the permit lapses, their job may be in jeopardy. I think that everybody has been encouraged to apply and I have not heard of anybody that does not want to do it.
TOM FUDGE: Walk us through the renewal process, what do DACA applicants needs know?
ALONDRA GARCIA: They need to have all of their documentation since they filed for DACA. If they filed in September 2012, then they need to have governments ready in possession since 2012 to the present. They need to pay the filing fee of $465. The renewal process is going to be a lot easier. A lot of my clients, I give them their file, I say here it is, here's the application, it is very simple, you can do it. I think a lot of them are going to do it on their own or go to one of the workshops where Alondra is working at so they can file the applications. I think this time around it will be a lot easier for the dreamers.
TOM FUDGE: Alondra, what are some of your concerns about the renewal process?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: One of my main concerns, and this is something that we all gathered up in Kansas, everything will affiliate from every other state that is part of the Own the Dream Campaign, are figures our biggest fear was not only a lot of people will fall out of the status because they will not renew in time, but a lot of people will not know when the DACA timeframe is. Because as of right now, everyone has a different DACA renewal timeframe. The very first people that did get DACA in September are already into the 150 days. Obviously, that is not their fault because you USIS only released the form for renewal last week. We want to calm everybody down, let them know that they do not need to panic. USIS knows that they are already in the renewal timeframe for those that applied earlier. Those are the people that really want to reach out to right now, because as of right now USIS is only going to send limited reminders, but they're not going to follow up with people. That is why we are here, to make sure that everybody knows when the DACA renewal timeframe is so they know how to renew before they fall out of status.
TOM FUDGE: People who apply for DACA or have gotten DACA status are called dreamers, I guess the thing that they are dreaming about is becoming American citizens eventually. When will that happen, and until that happens, Lilia, do believe that people will just continue to be able to renew and continue to be legal residence in the country?
ALONDRA GARCIA: It depends on who gets elected to office in 2016. If a Democrat takes over, we feel that DACA will continue. We have not heard that repercussions or any negative things as to why DACA would be bad for society. Just the opposite. But if it is taken away, those kids will be crushed. If they have a chance of working, being legitimate, and being incorporated into the mainstream of society, and for them to stop because their work permits cannot be extended. But if we get a Republican, we are in trouble.
TOM FUDGE: Do you agree with that, Alondra?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: I think a lot of the dreamers not only call themselves dreamers, they are dreaming for that, but he goes back to 2010 when the Dream Act was really pushing to be passed. A lot of people thought it would pass and when it failed by five votes, it not only crushed a lot of these undocumented youth, but it made a lot of other organizations that were fighting for this really just stopped the movement. I think that if we were to campaign for something, it would be to expand DACA for everybody, but also have it be a pathway to citizenship. But I don't think that there would be anything big like amnesty reform. We don't know what will be the follow-up for that.
TOM FUDGE: Alondra, you work for the Own the Dream Campaign, what is it doing? Talk about that a little bit more before we run out of time, what is it doing to reach out to young people who are like you?
LILIA VELASQUEZ: Own the Dream Campaign is a national campaign that was brought to us through United We Dream, one of the largest undocumented youth led organizations, they are stationed in DC and they have affiliates all over the country. The Own the Dream Campaign is really giving the narrative as to what these dreamers should be. Everybody thinks that dreamers are supposed to be well educated people that went to college and completed high school diplomas and they want to be a giving to society. But a lot of people did not complete high school because they did not think they could, and they did not go to college because they did not think they could. I was one of those people who was told I could not go to college by a lot of counselors. That was not true, I could go to college and they did not tell me. There are people that still do not know their rights as undocumented individuals, and Own the Dream changes the narrative, not only to dreamers but to everyone who is undocumented.
TOM FUDGE: Well, thank you very much to my guests. If you want any information about the Own the Dream Campaign, and what they are doing to help undocumented immigrants, go to our website KPBS.org. Thank you very much for coming in.