Young applicants line up for deferred deportation
Catholic Social Services advises 'measured response'
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The first days of applying for deferred deportation for some young adults under a program to use prosecutorial discretion brought out tens of thousands of applicants to workshops around the country, including hundreds of people in the Diocese of Charlotte.
Immigration staff with Catholic Social Services have been inundated with inquiries to get information and apply for deferred deportation status for 15- to 30-year-olds since Aug. 15, the first day applications could be filed under a move announced by President Barack Obama in June.
"The phones have been ringing off the hook," said Andrea B. Slusser, JD, the immigration supervisor for CSS.
Embassies and consulates around the country have seen long lines of people seeking documents they might need to apply for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.
DACA is open to people who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, have lived here at least five years and were not yet age 31 by June 15, when the program was announced. People younger than 15 who otherwise qualify will be able to apply once they turn 15, the government announced.
Despite the intense interest, though, agency staff are expressing caution over DACA, an executive order which the government has warned may be changed or stopped for any reason at any time without notice.
The application process involves giving federal officials a person's biographical details, information on how and when they entered the U.S. illegally, and any employment history in the U.S. It requires an applicant to admit, in writing, to violating numerous federal immigration laws. It also records their fingerprints and photos, and places the applicant on a list that potentially could be shared with other federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"If they decide to remove you from the country, the federal government doesn't have to make their case," Slusser noted. "You've made it for them."
"Because there are so many risks to this, we are taking a measured response," she said.
Also still evolving just two weeks after the program launched is information about how individual states may treat recipients of the DACA status. It's expected that it will take a couple of months or more before the first approved participants have completed the process and receive their documents.
So what will DACA do? It will grant young people two years' reprieve from the possibility of being deported – plus the option of getting authorization to work, which could bring with it a Social Security card. Depending on the state where the applicant lives, the Social Security card could open up the chance to get a driver's license and attend college at less expensive in-state tuition rates.
Government officials emphasize that DACA "does not confer any lawful status" such as a visa or citizenship status.
The application process is pretty complicated and costly at a fee of $465, so Slusser and the rest of the CSS staff are encouraging people to apply through reputable immigration professionals to avoid scams like paying extra fees to download an application (which is free online) or to expedite an application (which is not possible to do).
CSS officials in Asheville and the Triad have been responding to the most inquiries so far, Slusser said.
Besides five CSS staffers and three volunteers, Hispanic Ministry coordinators across the diocese, parish ministries and community organizations, and pastors are taking an active role in getting the word out about DACA and hosting workshops.
One of the most helpful things churches can do is provide proof of the five-year residency requirement, Slusser said, through parish registrations, sacramental records and ministry participation. This is all "benign evidence" for the DACA application that will not put the person at potential risk of legal trouble later on.
"Kudos to all of the churches, who've gotten it," Slusser said. "The clergy have gotten it, and they're reaching out."
Who are they reaching out to? Young people, either in their teens or early 20s, who want to go to college or find jobs legally. Most came to the U.S. when they were too young to remember.
"They have lived so long in the U.S., they barely speak Spanish. They were so young that they were carried across the border in the arms of their parents," Slusser said.
DACA offers these young people a chance for a reprieve – even it is brief, uncertain and filled with risk – but Catholic leaders continue to seek a more permanent fix.
The U.S. bishops, including Bishop Peter J. Jugis, have long advocated that these immigrant children be allowed to remain legally in the U.S., through legislation known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act.
Slusser said she was talking to young people at a recent workshop in the western part of the diocese who are anxious to apply. She said she told them, "Please be patient and think about what you are doing." She also told them that she personally thinks, "You guys deserve better than this. Keep struggling for the DREAM Act."
— Patricia Zapor and Patricia L. Guilfoyle, Catholic News Service/Catholic News Herald
More about the deferred deportation program – including the application, eligibility requirements and documentation needed, plus answers to frequently asked questions – is online at:
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy