June 15th, marks the one-year anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a landmark program initiated by President Obama to grant undocumented young immigrants relief from deportation and the opportunity to obtain employment and an education. For many DACA grantees, this has been a chance to step out of the shadows and better their lives.

NYLAG had long advocated the granting of deferred action status to undocumented youth, and worked closely with the Administration and elected officials to make the new directive a reality. Before the President’s pen was dry, NYLAG had begun a community outreach campaign, getting the word out through fliers, publicity, social media, and a designated DACA Hotline – and conducting scores of meetings and workshops to educate and advise potential DACA applicants and their parents. We have so far reached out to thousands of people, advised more than 1,100 individuals, and assisted over 400 people in applying for DACA, with most resulting in approval. NYLAG has also taken on particularly complex cases, such as representing individuals in removal proceedings. In addition, we screen all applicants and their families for all other forms of immigration relief, and in the process often find alternative avenues by which to legalize a client’s status. Once applicants obtain employment authorization, NYLAG is able to refer them to a unique program that helps put underserved individuals facing serious barriers to employment on the path to meaningful, sustainable careers.

The one-year anniversary of DACA gives us the chance to look back at the success of the program and evaluate it, especially now, as a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which includes an expedited path to citizenship for young DREAMers, makes its way through Congress.

No doubt, DACA is a great achievement and a great step forward, but building on what we have learned, NYLAG’s immigration attorneys have identified a number of ways that the program could be streamlined and made more accessible to eligible young people, including the following:

Temporary Protected Status: A large segment of youth potentially eligible for DACA was inadvertently barred from applying for these benefits because of their Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This includes those who came to the U.S. from Haiti after the earthquake, who cannot apply for DACA because they hold TPS. NYLAG believes this should be changed so that TPS does not prevent them from applying. We have lobbied directly with Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and members of Congress; and created an online petition that has generated 1,500 signatures. (Click here to sign.)

Education: NYLAG attorneys frequently encounter young people with undocumented parents who are afraid of applying for DACA because they do not want their parents to be discovered and subjected to removal proceedings. NYLAG has been working to educate families about DACA so they know it will not affect their status, and we urge other advocacy and community organizations to join us in this critical effort.

Age limits: NYLAG believes the DACA age limit should be expanded or done away with altogether. The present requirement that applicants be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012 is arbitrary and disqualifies a great many candidates who would be otherwise eligible. We would have the rule amended to make eligible anyone who was under 16 years of age at the time of entry and who satisfies all other DACA requirements.

Immigration fraud: Uninformed immigrants have been scammed out of thousands of dollars with false promises of status and false documents. As comprehensive federal immigration reform moves forward, immigrants must be aware of those trying to take advantage of them. We applaud the efforts of USCIS to combat immigration fraud and we encourage the further development of those initiatives. NYLAG will also continue to educate and assist New Yorkers in avoiding immigration fraud.

DACA documents: The documentation requirements for DACA are unnecessarily strict and unbending – for instance, the rigid requirements of direct evidence of continuous residence in the United States since 2007, which many undocumented individuals who have lived under the radar for many years simply do not possess.

These relatively simple steps will go a long way toward fulfilling the promise of countless young immigrants poised to contribute their talent, energy and commitment to the country they love.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge