Two weeks have passed since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it could start accepting applications from undocumented students interested in applying for the federal deferred action program.
Since then, representatives of immigration agencies, attorneys and university officials are taking steps to ensure eligible candidates learn about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the federal directive that could provide undocumented students with a temporary permit to work and live in the United States without fear of deportation.
Since Aug. 15, representatives of Opening Doors Immigration Services Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides immigration legal services in Denton, has kept a consistent schedule.
Kate Starnes, program director at Opening Doors, said the organization has provided free consultations to as many as 30 people interested in the program per day at the office on North Bell Avenue. Her office sees clients only three hours a day, three times per week, she said.
Although Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano officially announced the program June 15, it took two months until the full list of guidelines was available. Starnes said her office waited until immigration services provided all the needed information to begin seeing applicants.
So far, the average age of an applicant visiting her office is about 20 years old.
“It is not easy and they need help to get it [the filing] correct the first time,” Starnes said. “If they apply and they are denied, that will be their only opportunity.”
In an August report from the Migration Policy Institute, an independent think tank that provides analysis on migration and refugee policies, an estimated 1.76 million undocumented immigrants are eligible to apply for the deferred action initiative; 210,000 of them live in Texas.
To reach students in the Denton area, Texas Woman’s University, the University of North Texas and Proyecto Inmigrante, a Dallas/Fort Worth-area nonprofit agency that provides immigration counseling services, will have a workshop Wednesday to provide information to interested students.
Amanda Simpson, director of news and information at TWU, said the university had 156 undocumented students in the fall 2011 semester. Simpson said each school tracks data as required by the state because undocumented students have different eligibility requirements. Data from UNT was not available at press time.
Dr. Roberto Calderon, associate professor of history at UNT and president of the Denton Chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens No. 4366, said even without knowing the number of Denton students who could be eligible to apply, the issue was of national and international importance — affecting many students.
“The whole world is watching,” Calderon said. “It doesn’t matter what the numbers are ‘in the Denton area’ so much as what this means for the lives and collective future of hundreds of thousands of such persons and their families in Texas and the millions of such cases across the nation.”
In addition to the cost of $465 that includes an employment authorization fee (not counting attorney’s fees), applicants must go through a rigorous review process, including a criminal background check, and meet many guidelines. For this reason, Starnes said applicants should be careful and use the services of a licensed attorney.
For many years, undocumented immigrants of Latino descent have fallen victim to scams by “notarios públicos,” or notary public agents who have charged thousands of dollars to help people file their immigration papers.
As a result, many have had their applications delayed or denied and many have been deported due to filing error, Starnes said.
Part of the issue is a translation problem with people confusing a notary public for a licensed attorney. In countries like Mexico, a notario público is responsible for the legality of the content of a document, while in Texas a notary public only certifies the identity of the signer, according to Texas Secretary of State Esperanza Andrade’s website.
Monica Lira, an immigration attorney in Dallas, said she does not expect to see complaints about deferred action program scams until months from now, since the program just started.
“But it does not mean they are not happening,” she said.
Lira’s office has 70 deferred action cases so far. Many have already filed with the Citizenship and Immigration Services, others have received confirmation that their applications were received, and many are still gathering their paper work and saving money to pay the fees.
Lira said she is also seeing an element of fear among some interested in applying because of the unknowns. The Citizenship and Immigration Services does not provide a deadline for the program, and many wonder if the program will exist if a new president takes office next year.
“Some of them want to wait. They are scared and feeling like they will register directly with immigration,” Lira said.“Others want to see if there are actual results and someone gets approved.”
KARINA RAMIREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
• What: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals information presentation
• When: 12:30 p.m. Wednesday
• Where: Texas Woman’s University, Multipurpose Classroom Building
• More information: Call 940-595-3679
• Opening Doors Immigration Services: www.odisinc.org
• Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process: www.uscis.gov