There are an estimated 4.4 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
It is unknown how many reside in San Antonio. Every immigration expert asked provided similar answers.
“These people live in fear, and aren’t willing to disclose that information. Who can they trust without knowing they aren’t going to be deported?” Harriett Romo, UTSA professor of Sociology and director of the UTSA Mexico Center. “We have not conducted any studies or have an approximate amount of undocumented immigrants in San Antonio.”
At a recent immigration reform panel hosted at UTSA, experts offered explanations and advice regarding President Obamas’s Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents (DAPA), lauding the benefits.
Starting on Feb. 15, The Obama Administration will begin accepting expanded DACA applications. DAPA applications are expected to be released May 2015.
In November 2014, President Barack Obama made one of the boldest moves regarding immigration policies during his term. In addition to expanding DACA, the POTUS integrated DAPA, which bequeaths the same benefits to undocumented parents.
“When you are undocumented, you live daily in fear. You never know if or when you’ll be caught and deported somewhere unfamiliar. You don’t know who to trust or where go to for help. Now, I finally feel at peace.”
Those are the words of Hector Paez Jr., a Dreamer living in San Antonio and one of thousands of young immigrants utilizing DACA.
For the past 2.5 years, the government has granted deferred action (DACA) to more than 600,000 undocumented young adults—such as Paez—brought into the United States as children.
Individuals signed under DACA are safeguarded from being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcements and will also have the opportunity to apply for a social security number and drivers license, travel freely within the United States and are granted work authorization for three years.
A native of Durango, Mexico, the now 19-year-old Paez left Mexico at the age of eight with his father, Hector Hernandez Paez, Sr. in pursuit of a better life.
“It’s hard living in Mexico,” Paez Sr. said, in Spanish. “You live day by day just worrying about how you are going to feed your family. You can't even buy a car.”
The two are now living what they consider “The American Dream.” Paez Jr. saved money and enrolled in school for a degree in Business Management while working as an assistant manager at a convenience store. His father works in a rock quarry.
“Before this opportunity, I was so afraid. I didn’t know what I was going to do. When this announcement came, it gave me hope. I knew I had to do it. I got my social, I got a license, I got a job. After that, I went to school,” Paez Jr. said.
That's exactly what President Obama's immigration legislation set out to do. Romo pointed out that even further immigration reform is needed.
“When families are separated because of deportation, this creates hardships, emotional hardships, trauma for the youth that stay, or the wife that tries to become the wage supporter if the husband is deported. Deportation affects millions of children and their families,” Romo said. “Its a temporary fix, but it offers some relief, and assurance that they will not be deported.”
Despite the fear, several nonprofit groups in San Antonio are willing to assist undocumented immigrants legal services.
Caritas Legal Services offers consultations for $35 to help those interested in DAPA and DACA get on the right track. The fee is waived for victims of crime, abuse or human trafficking.
“Immigrants need to know the right people. They need to know who they can tell, who they can trust, and who can help them,” Rita Valdez, Board of Immigration member, and Immigration Services representative for Catholic Charities said. “We are there to help.”
“This isn’t just a U.S issue. This is humanitarian. Families are torn apart, and the only way this issue will be fixed is through comprehensive immigration reform,” Romo said.
While politicians fight over immigration reform, Dreamers have taken the opportunity to live the life they wanted.
Hector Paez, Jr. remains steadfast to his goals.
“I’m doing everything I’ve always wanted, I have a car. I make my own money. I’m going to school. There’s no need for me to be afraid anymore,” Paez Jr. said. “There is no reason for us to be afraid anymore. Things are going to be okay. Very soon, We’ll all be living that American Dream.”
Details of DACA and DAPA:
Before applying for DACA or DAPA, undocumented persons should check their eligibility.
Joseph B. De Mott, De Mott, Immigration Lawyer, McChesney, Curtright & Armendariz LLP, shared the requirements needed to apply for the grant.
To be eligible for DACA, individuals must:
- Have come to the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday
- Continuously lived in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2010
- Graduated from high school, obtained a General Education Certificate (GED), or be enrolled in school on date that DACA application is submitted.
- Have no conviction of crimes or certain criminal offenses.
- Present in U.S. on June 15th, 2012 and hasn’t left the U.S since August 15, 2012.
- Did not have lawful immigration status on June 15, 2012.
Requirements for DAPA are similar to those of DACA:
- Be parent of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- Continuously lived in the U.S. since January 1, 2010
- Present in U.S. on November 20, 2014.
- Have no conviction of cries or criminal offenses
- Not have lawful immigration status at time applying for DAPA.
A grant of deferred action is not the same as permanent residence. Instead, it authorizes a person to remain in the States for a period of time with assurance they will not be deported.
Upon completion of the programs, applicants are given a work permit card, which allows the individual to receive a social security number, a drivers license and permission to work and travel within the states.
Grants need to be renewed between 120-150 days before expiration of the current DACA permit.
Before applying, De Mott implores applicants to go through a qualified immigration attorney for specific advice.
“Beware of notary publics,” De Mott said. “Immigration policy is a complex issue, and it is vital that everything is spot-on to ensure the application is correct. Ask a professional for help.”
*Featured/top image: Hector Paez, Jr. (left) listens as Legal Assistant Cynthia Layton (right) discusses the process of renewing his DAPA application while his father listens. Photo by Amanda Lozano.