Undocumented youth gathered at the Bronx Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) New Americans Center on Glebe Avenue this past Sat., Oct. 6 in hopes of coming one step closer to having a legal status in their adopted country.
Among those waiting to speak to a lawyer were José and his mother, Mariana.
José came from Lima, Peru when he was seven.
18-year-old José was pretty confident that he had all of his documents in order, but still sought out the opportunity to speak to a lawyer.
He said wanted to submit his application before the elections. Though Republican candidate Mitt Romney has stated that he would respect Obama’s executive action on Deferred Action, many, including José, who filed into the center were skeptical.
“People say a lot of things during elections,” said José. José, who studies computer networking at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), said he was glad that Deferred Action, if granted him, will allow him to look for a job and stay in the country – for at least two years.
But he still hopes for the passage, ultimately, of the DREAM Act. “The government should continue helping out people who want a future,” he said. Deferred Action is not a path to citizenship; it offers protection from deportation and a work visa for two years; those who obtain Deferred Action status must renew it—a fact that is unsettling for many, including José’s mother.
“I’m a little nervous that he’s going to have to go through this every two years,” said Mariana. Applications with inaccurate information may lead to deportation, so it is of the utmost importance that undocumented youth have access to qualified lawyers.
The New York State Department of State has shown its support by setting up a number of clinics where applicants can seek free legal advice.
In response, several bar associations have stepped up to offer their services. Saturday’s event was co-sponsored by several bar associations, including the Puerto Rican Bar Association, Nigerian Lawyers Association and the Asian American Bar Association. Paul Pérez is one of the lawyers who volunteered Saturday.
The young immigrants’ struggle for legal status hits close to home.
“I feel like I could have been in their situation,” explained Pérez. Pérez’s mother came to the United States from Ecuador when she was pregnant with him. “It was just a few months’ difference,” he said. Pérez observed that the most common issue he came across on Saturday was the need for documents requiriing translation.
Elba Galván, vice president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, said that documents are important in constructing the narrative of someone who is committed to being an asset to the United States. While it is important for applicants to meet basic requirements, the application should be treated the same way as a professional resume. “You want to put your best foot forward,” she observed. Evidence of volunteer work, participation in extracurricular activities, and documentation of good grades and attendance in school all help provide a good impression as well as provide proof of residence in the United States.
Some applicants have very little to work with.
Galván said she spoke to one applicant who qualified for Deferred Action, but who had not been in school for the past five years.
“We had to brainstorm about what documents he could use to prove that he had been in the United States. But he did have gym membership and emails from relatives,” she said. Galván, whose parents are both immigrants, was happy to provide assistance on Saturday.
“The results were very positive,” she noted. “People left with a better understanding of what is required with the policy.” 16-year-old Miguel was driven across the border from Puebla, Mexico, when he was a toddler.
He does not remember the trip, but he is glad he made it.
“I like everything about the United States,” said the quiet teen. He especially likes the New York Yankees. After consulting a lawyer, Miguel learned that his birth certificate had to be translated to English.
At the center he was referred to a translator and he hopes to submit his application before the elections. “I hope this turns out okay. I would really like to get a job.” After the initial legal consultation, applicants had to wait for another attorney who double-checked their application and documents. After a long wait, 20-year-old Ana Karen set up an appointment at the next clinic.
“I’ll be glad when this is all over,” said Ana Karen.
Of the 67 people who set up appointments, 50 showed up, reported Ruben Arce, the center’s director. It was a strong showing.
For the next clinic, officials from the State Department hope to find even more volunteer attorneys willing to give of their time. Arce said he felt there was still a great deal of trepidation regarding Deferred Action. Though it is a step in the right direction, the policy is not a permanent fix. Many are concerned that the risks outweigh potential advantages. “It’s hard to be a part of history,” said Arce.
The next Deferred Action clinic is Thurs., Oct. 11th from 6 p.m. – 9p.m. at 429 West 127th Street.