New York City high school students, and beneficiaries of DACA themselves, discuss immigration policy with NYLAG attorneys as part of a research project.

New York City high school students and beneficiaries of DACA discuss immigration policy with NYLAG attorneys as part of a research project.

On June 15th we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a landmark program initiated by President Obama to grant undocumented young immigrants relief from deportation and the opportunity to obtain employment and an education.

DACA provides temporary relief from deportation to undocumented youth – who pose no threat to national security, were brought here by their parents, and who have grown up here – and gives them the right to obtain an employment authorization. While DACA is not a comprehensive solution, and does not, under the current law, provide a pathway to green card and naturalization, it affords an opportunity to tens of thousands of undocumented youth to be legally employed in the US and to complete their education.

“NYLAG had long advocated the granting of deferred action status to undocumented youth, and worked closely with the Administration and elected officials to make the new directive a reality,” said Irina Matiychenko, Director of NYLAG’s Immigration Protection Unit. “The one-year anniversary of DACA gives us the chance to look back at the success of the program and evaluate it going forward, especially now, as a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes an expedited path to citizenship for young DREAMers, makes its way through Congress. We want to get the details right, building on what we have learned.”

While DACA is a great step forward, NYLAG’s immigration attorneys have identified a number of ways that the program could be streamlined and made more accessible to eligible young people, including:

Temporary Protected Status: A large segment of youth potentially eligible for DACA was inadvertently barred from applying for these benefits because of their Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This includes those who came to the U.S. from Haiti after the earthquake, who cannot apply for DACA because they hold TPS. NYLAG believes this should be changed so that TPS does not prevent them from applying. We have lobbied directly with Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and members of Congress; and created an online petition that has generated 1,500 signatures. (Click here to sign.)

Education: NYLAG attorneys frequently encounter young people with undocumented parents who are afraid of applying for DACA because they do not want their parents to be discovered and subjected to removal proceedings. NYLAG has been working to educate families about DACA so they know it will not affect their status, and we urge other advocacy and community organizations to join us in this critical effort.

Age limits: NYLAG believes the DACA age limit should be expanded or done away with altogether. The present requirement that applicants be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012 is arbitrary and disqualifies a great many candidates who would be otherwise eligible. We would have the rule amended to make eligible anyone who was under 16 years of age at the time of entry and who satisfies all other DACA requirements.

Immigration fraud: Uninformed immigrants have been scammed out of thousands of dollars with false promises of status and false documents. As comprehensive federal immigration reform moves forward, immigrants must be aware of those trying to take advantage of them. We applaud the efforts of USCIS to combat immigration fraud and we encourage the further development of those initiatives. NYLAG will also continue to educate and assist New Yorkers in avoiding immigration fraud.

DACA documents: The documentation requirements for DACA are unnecessarily strict and unbending – for instance, the rigid requirements of direct evidence of continuous residence in the United States since 2007, which many undocumented individuals who have lived under the radar for many years simply do not possess.

NYLAG’s Commitment to Helping DACA Beneficiaries

From the day DACA was announced, NYLAG has been actively involved in promoting the directive, and helping potential DACA beneficiaries. The agency has aggressively communicated with immigrant families – to date reaching thousands of people through NYLAG’s website, flyers translated into multiple languages, news articles, Dream Days for young eligible and parents, workshops and clinics for volunteers and community groups, social media, a DACA phone hotline, an email intake address, and mobilization of our Mobile Legal Help Center to reach the most remote areas.

Since August 15, 2012, when DACA applications were first accepted, NYLAG had advised more than 1,100 individuals, and assisted over 400 people in applying for DACA, with most resulting in approval. (It is expected that there will be a large surge in the number of applications granted this summer.) NYLAG has also taken on particularly complex cases, such as representing individuals in removal proceedings. Once applicants obtain employment authorization, NYLAG refers them to a partner employment agency – a unique asset that we are bringing to DACA clients to help them with resume development and other skills necessary to secure meaningful employment with real advancement opportunities. In addition, NYLAG screens all applicants and their families, and in the process often finds other avenues for possible immigration relief. This has resulted in identifying that some prospective DACA applicants were eligible for adjustment of status, benefits under VAWA, U visa and SIJS. Through the process, NYLAG has also identified and accepted a number of cases with I-130 provisional waiver relief.

NYLAG is committed to providing legal services to the thousands of clients who are already benefitting from DACA, said Ms. Matiychenko. “And we are optimistic that our attorneys will be able to help thousands more whose lives will be transformed when the landmark immigration reform bill becomes law.”