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placeholder February 4, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
DACA giving some immigrants a pathway to citizenship

Sebastian Zavala

On Jan. 3 of this year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that beginning in early March 2013, an undocumented immigrant will be able to apply for legal residence in the United States without having to leave the country while their application for a Provisional Waiver for Unlawful Presence is being reviewed.

Undocumented spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens will be able to apply for forgiveness of their unlawful time in the United States by filling out and submitting form I-601A. An applicant will also need to submit proof that the family member who is a U.S. citizen will experience extreme hardship if the application is denied. An applicant will remain in the U.S. while a residence application is pending, avoiding separation from family, often for many months, causing stress, anxiety, and financial problems. If the provisional waiver is denied, USCIS claims that they will not place applicants in deportation proceedings. Instead, denied applicants may reapply for legal residence.

If the waiver is approved, an applicant will then need to leave the country for an interview at a U.S. consulate. USCIS states that such trips should be of short duration, around one to two weeks. Under the provisional waiver guidelines, an applicant will be able to reenter the U.S. with a visa issued by the consulate.

CCEB clinics

Catholic Charities of the East Bay has drop-in clinics to advise and counsel undocumented immigrants.

No appointment is needed.

Clinics are open: 9 a.m. to noon Mondays at 3240 Chestnut Ave., Concord, 925-825-3099; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays at 2369 Barrett Ave., Richmond, 510-439-4267; and 9 a.m. to noon Fridays at 433 Jefferson, Oakland, 510-768-3100.

The cost is $40 per screening, but no one will be turned away for a lack of funds.

Contact CCEB at www.cceb.org, click on programs, then on immigration.
The waiver applies only to an applicant's unlawful presence in the U.S. It does not apply to other bars to residency, such as a criminal record, evidence of fraud, and prior orders of removal. Applicants will need to consider what other bars to immigration they may have, the hardship to U.S. citizen parents, spouses, and children, as well as filing fees and legal costs. Proving extreme hardship to a qualifying family member is difficult and requires the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney or accredited representative. The waiver is discretionary, meaning that even if an applicant proves extreme hardship, the waiver can still be denied.

During the Obama administration deportations have occurred in a number larger than in previous administrations. Still, and in spite of gridlock on immigration reform in the House, Obama exercised executive powers to create Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that grants certain youth temporary status in the U.S. He also expanded prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases, and expanded benefits for widows of immigrant U.S. citizens. His administration did not propose any laws or policies to increase deportations.

Catholic Charities of the East Bay has offices in Oakland, Richmond and Concord with legal staff who can help in determining if undocumented immigrants qualify for this new benefit. CCEB attorneys provide services for low-income immigrants for about a quarter of the cost of a private attorney's services. The CCEB legal team has over 25 years of immigration law experience, and CCEB is recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals as an organization authorized to represent people in immigration applications.

The benefits to applying for the provisional waiver under the new guidelines are that applicants avoid lengthy separations from family, and the emotional and financial costs of living for months in another country. Becoming a legal permanent resident allows an applicant to work and live legally in the U.S. The biggest benefit to an immigrant is the pathway to citizenship and a life free of anxiety and fear of deportation while American society gains more healthy, unified families to strengthen our communities.

(Attorney Sebastian Zavala is Director of Legal Services for Catholic Charities of the East Bay and a main coordinator for the East Bay Naturalization and DACA.)

'Band-Aid' for youth evolves

WASHINGTON — As the six-month mark approaches in an administration program to defer deportation for some young undocumented immigrants, the pace of applications has slowed, but more than 150,000 people have been approved for the status that comes with a work permit and a Social Security number.

Meanwhile, states and the federal government are still settling details of exactly what it means to be approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Immigrants, or DACA, when it comes to getting driver's licenses, in-state resident tuition rates, some kinds of jobs and other issues.

The reality is that recipients of deferred action are not in an immigration status that leads to permanent legal residency.

DACA is open to those who came to the United States before their 16th birthdays and are not yet 31, have been in the U.S. at least five years, have clean criminal records, are either in school or have completed at least high school and who meet other criteria.

Approval means the government will not pursue deportation unless the individual breaks the law. It comes with a work permit and a Social Security card and is issued on a two-year, renewable basis. Proof of many things must be submitted with applications, but the type of documentation that qualifies as proof is open to interpretation.

Still evolving is the answer to whether DACA recipients are eligible to get driver's licenses in states that require immigrants to have legal immigration status. The National Immigration Law Center lists just three states — Arizona, Michigan and Nebraska — which have said DACA recipients are not eligible for driver's licenses.

Requirements for the type of identification required for licenses also vary from state to state. Policies also vary around the country for whether colleges allow DACA recipients to obtain lower in-state tuition rates.

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