New York City’s Largest Provider of Immigration Legal Services Mobilizes to Help “DREAMers” Apply for Status.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new policy that provides relief for many young, undocumented immigrants. Beginning in August 2012, individuals who were brought to the United States as children, who do not present a risk to national security, and who meet certain other key criteria, will be able to apply for immigration relief through a process known as “Deferred Action.”

In response to DHS’s announcement, NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit immediately mobilized to create its new Deferred Action Assistance Project. The project will educate the public and will provide free direct assistance to young people in applying for and obtaining Deferred Action and employment authorization. Even before official outreach for the project began, NYLAG received hundreds of calls from potential applicants.

As longtime DREAM Act advocates, NYLAG urged the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) to grant Deferred Action to undocumented youth, commonly known as “DREAMers,” and worked closely with elected officials to make the new policy a reality. “It has been a real uphill battle,” said Irina Matiychenko, Director of the Immigrant Protection Unit. “For many years DHS and immigration judges had the ability to grant Deferred Action status, but it was only exercised in extremely limited circumstances. This new directive from DHS legitimizes the use of this status for hundreds of thousands of young individuals who pose no threat to national security, who were brought here by their parents, and who have grown up here.”

NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit is staffed by 16 attorneys, in addition to 10 paralegals and Board of Immigration Appeals-accredited representatives. The agency is experienced in all aspects of immigration law and specializes in handling large volumes of cases expediently and efficiently. For example, within one week of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, NYLAG created a project to help Haitian nationals in the U.S. apply for Temporary Protected Status. The program successfully leveraged internal resources, connections with local officials and pro bono partners to file applications on behalf of hundreds of individuals.

While USCIS is scheduled to announce the official protocols for the application process on August 15, NYLAG has already created a tool kit of the documents that potential applicants will need to provide in order to apply for Deferred Action. The tool kit is based on the eligibility criteria established by the DHS Memo and will allow NYLAG clients to be among the first to submit their applications once the protocol is announced. NYLAG attorneys have already started submitting requests for those potential Deferred Action candidates who are currently in removal proceedings. The following is one example:

Twenty-year-old Ricardo was brought to the United States by his mother from Mexico at the age of 12. He attended high school in New York City and graduated with honors two years ago. A short time later, his mother married an American citizen who then filed a relative petition for both Ricardo and his mother. Under immigration law, minor stepchildren of U.S. citizens are eligible to receive a green card via this process. However, since Ricardo was over 18 years old when the marriage took place, his petition was denied and he was placed in removal proceedings, meaning he could be deported at any time. Ricardo’s only living relative is his mother; he has no friends or relatives in Mexico. The new policy gives Ricardo a chance to legally stay in the U.S., to continue his education, and gain employment. NYLAG has already filed a request to terminate removal proceedings and grant Ricardo Deferred Action status.

A danger of the new policy is the potential for exploitation by unlicensed or fraudulent immigration service providers. To combat this, NYLAG created flyers that explain the new policy and caution immigrants against using unlicensed practitioners. Translated into 10 different languages, the flyers are being distributed throughout NYLAG’s network of more than 300 partner agencies, well as the offices of local politicians. NYLAG is also reaching out to schools and GED programs with significant immigrant populations. A new dedicated hotline will serve as the first access point for callers seeking more information and assistance with applications.

For more information please visit nylag.org/DREAMers, or call NYLAG’s Deferred Action Assistance hotline at (212) 613-6597 or email [email protected].