Santa Barbara immigration attorneys and organizations serving immigrant communities have been working overtime since last week when the federal government first began accepting applications from young immigrants — who came to the United States illegally as children — seeking temporary two-year permits under what’s known as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA). “I’ve been the busiest I’ve ever been,” said immigration attorney Arnold Jaffe. Also busy is attorney Michael Reino, who said he’s charging around $650 to process a DACA application. La Casa de la Raza held a workshop last Thursday, an open house allowing immigration lawyers to get the word out to interested immigrants. And Importa, a relatively new organization focusing on immigrant rights, held an event attended by about 100 people at the Westside Neighborhood Center to explain how immigrants can avoid the cost of attorneys by filling out the forms themselves.
President Barack Obama enacted DACA by presidential decree after the Senate filibustered to death the DREAM Act, which would have granted legal status to young immigrants brought into the United States and not made legal since. DACA offers a two-year grace period to immigrants 30 years or younger as of June 15 who came to the United States on or before June 2007 and who were 16 or younger at the time of their arrival. While no one knows for sure how many are eligible, nationally the estimate is 1.7 million people. In Santa Barbara, the numbers likely range in the thousands.
Although there’s no deadline for turning in the applications, Obama’s presidential decree could — and would — be reversed should Republican Mitt Romney be elected. According to Russell Trenholm of Importa, the application process is relatively straightforward, assuming no criminal charges are involved. Should criminal issues be involved, even for minor matters, the picture is more complicated, and no clear guidelines exist. Trenholm and the attorneys all agree that if criminal allegations exist, applicants should obtain complete copies of their records before applying. For those accepted, Trenholm said, they’ll occupy a quasi-limbo for two years. “You won’t be legal, but you won’t be illegal either. You won’t be eligible for social services, but they won’t be able to deport you either.”