This week’s post features Kevin Cruz, who is currently an undergraduate student at Cornell and is studying Fine Arts and American Studies. Kevin is one of over half a million recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Kevin was valedictorian of his high school’s senior class and is also an accomplished artist. When asked why he decided to attend Cornell, he responded, “it is a highly reputable institution of higher education and because they met my financial needs which would alleviate the economic burden on my parents.” We feel fortunate to have him be part of Ithaca’s immigrant community and asked him to share some of his experiences in regarding to being undocumented prior to DACA as well as the DACA application process. Here’s what he had to say….
I immigrated to the United States at the age of 8 with my brother who at the time was 9 years old. Among the reasons for our migration to the United States was our parents’ desire to reunite the family and the other is so that we can escape the poverty remaining from civil war during the 80’s (which the United States had clear military and economic involvement with). Currently, I am one of the many undocumented students who benefit from the limited privileges under the DACA program implemented by the Obama administration. Although the program is celebrated as one that grants some basic civil rights for undocumented students it is nonetheless an arduous application process.
The application process for DACA was certainly strenuous and meticulously demanding. I was aware of my status and the implicated disadvantages stemming from it but never did I realize the lack of humanity in our immigration system until I applied for DACA. Most of the aspects of my life came in to question, from proving the validity of where I lived to the common value placed on education. In order to do so my family and I had to recollect ephemeral documentation like progress report cards to prove my school record and our residency in Los Angeles for the previous five years. In addition, I had to prove my nationality. This meant obtaining original birth certificates from El Salvador. Obtaining such documents requires not only long hours on my parents’ behalf, but also monetary resources not considered in the application.
Completing the application was an ordeal. The remaining portion of the process was awaiting approval from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Our entire family was anxious, because even if the major benefits I was to gain from DACA were the ability to work in the United States and the rightfully earned conditional safety in the country I have called home for over a decade. U.S citizens often overlook these rights, but for my family and I they meant life-changing rights. Eventually, I was approved and now I enjoy a conditional safety net.
Although the program has proven to be life changing, I was lucky. There are many undocumented students and their families who still live under a precarious condition. Along with the limited rights granted by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program also demonstrates how fractured the United States immigration system is. Most concerning is hindering of progressive and comprehensive political changes by the racism and capitalist interest still existent in the United States. All at the cost of people’s humanity and livelihoods.
On November 20, 2014, many people watched President Obama make a formal announcement regarding the administrative relief he was willing to provide to help 4.5 million undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows and apply for work authorization and protection from deportation. He offered up deferred action to those who qualify through an expanded DACA program and also a new program, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). The new action – DAPA – will basically shield immigrant parents from deportation.
While this announcement is a far cry from Comprehensive Immigration Reform, it is a step in the right direction. It is also a cue for millions of people in the country to get busy. From the staff at DHS who will figure out all of the nuts and bolts in order to implement the executive order to USCIS who will have to hire staff to adjudicate and process the applications. And not to mention the legal practitioners who will have to ramp up services to prepare and process those 4.5 million applications to the actual beneficiaries (the immigrants) who will have to collect the evidence to prove they qualify for relief. It’s time for anyone who is directly affected by this announcement to get busy.
As I listened to the commentary, analysis, and debate that followed Obama’s executive action, I immediately started thinking about what needs to be done at our agency in order to prepare for an unknown number of people who might come to us for legal assistance. I also started thinking of a “to do list” in my head; a list that started with getting trained on both programs. My to do list also included the need to network with others legal providers upstate and to also team up with Gary Liao, ONA Legal Counsel, so he can assist our efforts with outreach and free legal consultations. Overall, we need to be ready to pre-screen potential clients as soon as possible and then give them their own to do list – a list they hopefully already have a head start on.
While Catholic Charities will be offering direct services and representation for both DAPA and the expanded DACA program, the following information is for potential DAPA applicants.
DAPA – what are the qualifications?
- Parents of a US citizen or legal permanent resident child as of November 20, 2014 – “child” can be a minor or adult and single or married;
- Continuously resided in the US from January 1, 2010, to the present;
- Physically present in the US on November 20, 2014; and,
- Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or 3 or more misdemeanor offenses.
The DAPA “ To Do List”
- Save money for preparing and filing your application.
- Get proof of who you are – obtain birth certificate, passport or other photo ID, or a matricula consular or other type of government-issued ID. Get foreign documents translated into English.
- Gather proof you are the parent of a child who is a US citizen or LPR – this can include your son’s or daughter’s birth certificate or US passport, naturalization certificate or green card. Get foreign documents translated into English.
- Gather proof to show you have been in the US continuously since January 1, 2010 (this can include financial records, school records, medical records, letters, bills, rent payment receipts, passport with admission stamp, copies of money order receipts, bank statements, filed income taxes).
- Gather any criminal records you have. We suggest you obtain a certificate of disposition for any arrests you have.
- Get pre-screened – Catholic Charities is offering free legal consultations to pre-screen potential DAPA applicants. Call (607) 272-5062 to schedule an appointment.