By Elena Shore
(Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on June 10 by New America Media and is republished with updated information with permission)
FRESNO, Calif. – Weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in United States v. Texas, immigrant rights advocates worked hard to get accurate information to residents of one of the state’s hardest-to-serve regions: California’s Central Valley.
“We have one antidote to fear, and it’s information,” Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, said during a recent media roundtable in Fresno. Fear and confusion, Close warned, could expose people to “being scammed, having people prey on the confusion.”
The meeting was organized by New America Media in collaboration with Ready California and local partner organizations and was joined by reporters from a dozen media outlets [including Community Alliance newspaper] as well as community members and immigrant rights advocates.
Advocates said it was a crucial time to give people the information they need.
What families need to know
The U.S. Supreme Court announced its 4-4 split decision in United States v. Texas at the end of June. The outcome means the two immigration relief programs announced by President Obama in 2014 remain on hold.
One program would have expanded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), eliminating the age cap now in place with the existing program that was first announced in 2012.
The other, called DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans), would have created a new program for undocumented parents who have U.S.-citizen or legal permanent resident children.
However, the 4-4 split decision not set legal precedent and could not be used as a legal challenge to the current DACA program.
The original DACA program announced in 2012 remains in effect.
Sara Feldman, project director of Ready California, said the statewide collaborative is working to ensure the maximum number of eligible Californians continue to benefit from DACA.
According to Citizen Path, an immigration services organization, “The U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-4 split decision has blocked President Obama’s executive actions on immigration that expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and created Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). The split decision on June 23, 2016, has effectively stopped DAPA and Expanded DACA.
“There’s still reason for undocumented immigrants to remain optimistic. Immigration advocates and organizations are pushing hard for legislative change that will provide relief to undocumented immigrants already in the United States and positively contributing to the U.S. economy.
“If Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, is elected, she could attempt to revive the deferred action programs or work with the new Congress on comprehensive immigration reform. A Clinton win will also most likely result in a pro-immigration choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Scalia’s death. Any legal challenges to executive action under her administration would come to a court that would have a majority of Democratic-appointed justices and, most likely, give undocumented immigrants a friendlier reception.”
What you can do now
Advocates note that even though DAPA and expanded DACA remain blocked, there are a number of steps families can still take to protect themselves.
In California, undocumented immigrants can apply for a driver’s license under the state’s AB 60. Parents here can also enroll their children in Medi-Cal, regardless of the child’s immigration status. Nationally, eligible green card holders can apply for U.S. citizenship; and U.S. citizens can register to vote.
The original DACA program will continue to exist and is not affected by the Supreme Court case. Individuals can still apply for and renew DACA and check with a qualified legal service provider to see what other immigration relief options they might be eligible for.
Community members who have received DACA described the program as “life-changing.”
“I’m the first person in my family and possibly the first in my town, to graduate from high school,” said Yessenia Herrera, a native of Oaxaca, who is now pursuing a college degree and working as a medical and legal interpreter.
“Even though these benefits are temporary, the effect that they have on our lives are life-changing,” said Gelasio Rodriguez, who graduated from Fresno State University as a political science major. “You feel that now you finally belong.”
A hard-to-serve region
Service providers here have been crisscrossing five counties, spreading the word about how to apply for the current DACA program and avoid fraud.
But the region is one of the most challenging in the state to operate in, not only because the population is spread out but also because there are few legal service providers to serve them.
“Here in the Central Valley, covering five counties, we don’t have many BIA-accredited organizations,” said Fatima Hernandez, programs director of the UFW Foundation. BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals) accreditation allows non-lawyers to provide limited legal services to clients. Some areas, like King and Tulare County, have few or no organizations able to serve them, she said.
As a result, immigrant families – some of whom have low income and education levels – may be more vulnerable to immigration scams.
For indigenous Mexican communities, such as Mixtec, Zapotec, Triqui and Purépecha, one of the biggest barriers is language. Some indigenous communities here speak only their native language and do not know Spanish or English, said Leoncio Vasquez Santos, executive director of the Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño.
How to avoid fraud
“A lot of our community has been taken advantage of by notarios or consultants,” added Mario Gonzalez, victim service program manager of Centro La Familia Advocacy Services.
Part of the problem is a translation issue, he explained. “In the United States, notarios don’t go through the same education as in Mexico or other countries. Here, they just take an exam. They can’t give you legal advice.”
Advocates encouraged immigrants to ask to see the credentials of their legal services provider. Applicants should never sign a blank form, and should ask for a translation if they need it. They should also make sure to get copies of any papers filed for their case.
“Don’t pay anyone who promises you a quick fix to your immigration problem,” said Gonzalez.
“A lot of people who have been scammed don’t report it,” he said. “If someone’s taken advantage of you, you can go to one of our local non-profits and they can help you report it to the FTC.”
Elena Shore is an editor at New America Media, which organized the media roundtable with Ready California. For more information about Ready California, visit Ready-California.org.