Today, February 18, 2015, was supposed to be a good day; it was scheduled to be the first day for applications to be accepted by USCIS for the expanded DACA program. It was going to be a day celebrated – almost a late Valentine’s present – especially for those DREAMERS who have been eagerly awaiting getting protection from deportation, as well as the chance to work with authorization. It was supposed to be a day when applications for deferred action and employment authorization should have been signed, sealed, and delivererd and then fingers crossed, got approved. The banner that should have been displayed this morning on the USCIS website should be announcing they are now accepting applications for the Expanded DACA program. But, instead, because of the ruling of one Texan judge, today’s banner isn’t a cause for celebration. Instead, it is such a let down.
Even though the President’s Administrative Relief (AR) had left many immigration advocates wondering why his administration hasn’t gone further to push for a more permanent fix for immigration reform, there was still excitement in the air when he boldly announced it last November. And now one judge in Texas not only halted the momentum of a program that would benefit DREAMERS, it also has also halted the DAPA program, a program that would have brought stability to potentially millions of undocumented immigrant parents and their families.
As I looked through the USCIS website this morning, there was the following announcement of sorts regarding how the Texan judge was able to dash the hopes of so many DREAMERS:
Update: Due to a federal court order, USCIS will not begin accepting requests for the expansion of DACA on February 18 as originally planned. The court’s temporary injunction, issued February 16, does not affect the existing DACA. Individuals may continue to come forward and request an initial grant of DACA or renewal of DACA under the guidelines established in 2012. Please check back for updates.
Although USCIS’s message of “please check back for updates” doesn’t tell us much it is important to understand that the judge’s ruling that caused the expanded DACA and the DAPA programs to be halted did not invalidate either program. Instead, it was ordered that the federal government take additional time to carry out a formal rule-making process. What’s also important to understand is that this order is temporary and the Obama Administration has already voiced intentions to appeal this ruling in the circuit court. Hopefully at that junction, a wiser reading of the law will prevail.
In the meantime, legal immigration programs across the country (including our program at Catholic Charities) must continue to prepare our clients for AR. We must continue to provide outreach to the immigrant community and keep them informed, help them collect the necessary documents needed to apply, and then provide the legal services if AR is re-instated. This ruling shouldn’t deter us from continuing to prepare for AR; instead we need to have faith the Obama Administration will be successful when it has its day in court.
One of the best pieces of advice that can be given to immigrants who are undocumented is to create a paper trail of how they are spending their time in the US and to keep their paperwork as organized as possible. This is especially true in case they ever qualify for some type of immigration relief such as deferred action, or better yet, are eligible to apply for legalization and need to show proof of residency in the US.
A paper trail can range from speeding tickets and electric bills, to school transcripts or posts on social media. But with tax time right around the corner, I want to take this opportunity to strongly encourage undocumented immigrant workers who haven’t been filing taxes to get an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) and add a filed tax return to their paper trail as well.
Beyond the fact that filing taxes is required by law for anyone earning above a certain amount of money, a filed tax can also serve as a pretty solid piece of evidence to establish proof of residency. And there’s the added bonus of how filing several years of taxes, and paying back taxes, if need be, might put someone in a more favorable light when applying for an immigration benefit. Good moral character is often part of approving a case and when an immigration officer is looking at documents submitted with an immigration application, it can’t hurt to have filed tax returns being part of the equation.
The message is pretty consistent whenever there is any talk amongst legislators that any possibility of amnesty or Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) must include all back taxes be paid by undocumented workers before any type of immigration benefit would be granted. Because undocumented workers are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN), they must apply for an ITIN in order to file taxes. Since the IRS does not ask about immigration status and is barred from divulging taxpayer information to other government agencies (such as ICE), filing taxes is a sound way to establish a paper trail. Given that any talk about CIR in Congress is always linked to the payment of taxes, it is important for immigrants to take the steps needed in order to properly get their taxes filed now.
Because obtaining an ITIN number can be somewhat of a complicated process we advise our clients to seek help from a tax firm that has an Acceptance Agent (AA). An AA is someone who has already been vetted and authorized by the IRS to help applicants file and mail their ITIN application (W-7) and verify the identity documents needed to complete the application. Catholic Charities has identified an AA in Tompkins County, as well as other counties in the Southern Tier that charge only $35 to prepare the ITIN application.
I have come across immigrants who know about the ITIN but never knew how to obtain one. I have also had clients who have an ITIN but paid up to $1000 to obtain one. Most undocumented immigrant workers know it is their responsibility to pay taxes but since it is a complicated process it doesn’t always happen. My sentiment, as stated above though, is for immigrants to create a paper trail and to make sure that trail includes filed taxes. In addition, I would add once they obtain their ITINs, undocumented workers should then pay back taxes. This not only satisfies the law but it is certainly going to be a prerequisite for being eligible to apply for any future legalization program. This is a message worth repeating, especially since this has already been clearly stated by Congress.
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.
Every now and then our staff has to field questions concerning immigrants and their legal status in the U.S. We are sometimes challenged to define the difference between “undocumented immigrant” and “illegal alien” or asked point blank if we serve “illegals.” As part of Catholic Charities, we rely on the view of Catholic social teachings when it comes to addressing this topic. According to the views of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “every person has basic human rights and is entitled to have basic human needs met – food, shelter, clothing, education, and health care.” They further state, “No person is a criminal in the eyes of God merely for being undocumented.”
As a program that provides legal immigration services, we find terms such as undocumented immigrants, non-citizens, or people here in violation of immigration law to be acceptable. We view words such as illegal, illegals, or illegal alien to be terms that dehumanizes and tends to silence someone that may be in need of help or services. We are trying to open doors for the immigrant community, not close them. We found the following opinion piece, “Regarding Immigrants, Why Do We Have to Be Mean?” which was published on Fredericksburg.com to be an interesting read related to this topic.
Leave us a comment and let us know what you think – undocumented or illegal – do these words matter?