Many young undocumented immigrants brought to America as kids live in a kind of suspended animation — with everything from college to jobs to medical care to driver’s licenses put on hold by their legal status.
Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, such young adults can apply for temporary permission to work, go to school, all the while not worrying about being deported. DACA doesn’t provide a pathway to eventual citizenship as the DREAM Act would if it were ever to pass, but the policy still allows these youth to progress in their lives, go to college, and start careers.
Registering for DACA it isn’t easy, however. Applicants must be younger than 31 years of age (as of June 15). Plus, they must provide proof of continuous residency in the United States. Which could be a problem for some immigrants if they started working after high school and took a job that paid in cash because of their lack of a Social Security number — leaving a gap in their records.
That’s why a group of immigration attorneys in Texas will be offering free legal help to DACA-eligible people on June 5 and 6 at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in San Antonio.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, Texas has 210,000 immigrant residents eligible for DACA, the second highest of any state. (California has the most.) Immigration attorney Alex Garza of RAICES told Dana Choi of the Standard-Times in San Angelo that the nonprofit is trying to find and help as many of those people as it can. “We are actually coming out to the towns and counties so (people who might be eligible for DACA) don’t have to travel all the way out to San Antonio for legal assistance.”
Johana Deleón is one young Texan that RAICES helped apply for DACA; she was approved back in March. Now Deleón is studying for her driving test and was recently accepted into Texas A&M, where she will attend if she can find enough financial aid.
The challenges she faces as she continues her education are considerable, but she’s ready. “You can start at the bottom and work your way up,” she told Choi. “We work hard to get where we are, so I don’t think it’ll be much of a problem for us.”