By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Although a government program gives undocumented immigrants the opportunity to gain status and prevent the possibility of deportation, few Asian Pacific Islanders are utilizing the program.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, enacted on June 15, 2012, enables certain people who came into the United States undocumented to obtain a “deferred action” status. This status means the U.S. government will “defer removal action of an individual as an act of prosecutorial discretion,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. One drawback is that participants in this program are not provided a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
The program states that applicants must be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and must have arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday. The individual must have resided continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007 through the present time. They must either be in school, graduated from high school or an equivalent, or served in the United States military with an honorable discharge. The program also requires that applicants have no significant criminal record.
21 Progress, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle, assists low-income youth and immigrants in building a future through education. With just three full-time staff members, the organization offers projects that help those in need of assistance, including a program that guides undocumented individuals through the DACA process.
The group offers a DACA loan program called the “Lending Circle” for those unable to pay the $465 application fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It provides an interest-free $360 loan, to be paid back over 10 months — a $36 monthly payment — with the remaining $105 provided as a gift from the organization.
Since 2012, 21 Progress has assisted several individuals through the DACA application process, but only one was of Asian descent. Most of the people the group has helped are from Latin American countries.
James To, program manager for 21 Progress, notes that the one Asian applicant was from Mongolia.
“I think there are a couple of factors we are running into,” To said about the lack of Asian participation. “We are having a difficult time in reaching out.”
To pointed to the concern individuals have about revealing that they are not in the United States legally. “There’s a lot more secrecy if a person is undocumented, and a lot more pressure to keep it a secret in API communities.”
According to the Organization of Chinese Americans, there are more than 1.5 million undocumented Asian Pacific Americans in the United States. Washington is in the top 10 states, with an estimated 35,000 people who are potential DACA beneficiaries, according to 21 Progress. Despite the opportunity to apply, few in the Asian Pacific Islander community take advantage of the program.
There’s a concern among undocumented individuals who do not trust the government program.
“I’m sure that it is a concern across cultures that it is a trick,” said To. “I understand that concern and we manage people’s information very carefully because of that reason.”
In addition to working with people who have received their DACA status, 21 Progress provides testimony for other people to apply. It also works with organizations such as the Northwest Immigrants’ Rights Project and One America to make people feel more comfortable with its program.
Another issue 21 Progress runs into is the fact that DACA does not lead to citizenship. The program only offers deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and specifically states that it does not provide individuals with lawful status.
“The main concern is the question, why should I spend money on DACA, when immigration reform will happen?” said To.
There is a belief that the government may restructure the rules on immigration, possibly granting citizenship to those already in the country. To reminds applicants that DACA “grants protection from deportation.” Through DACA, “people will have a leg up in the process,” To said.
Although there are no assurances, To believes that individuals with DACA status may have an advantage in the immigration process through quicker processing and less expenses.
There are other benefits to achieving status under DACA, including obtaining a work permit, opening a bank account and getting a credit card, all things that give young adults the chance to incorporate into American society without the fear of deportation. (end)
For more information on 21 Progress and its Lending Circle Program, visit its website at 21Progress.org, or email DACA@21Progress.org or call 206-829-8482.
Further information on DACA is available at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, www.uscis.gov.
On Nov. 9, 21 Progress will host a DACA Day event in the SODO/Georgetown area at 5030 First Ave. S., Suite 101, Seattle (Joe Crump Hall, UFCW 21 Seattle office), from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
At the event, participants will be able to sign up for DACA Lending Circles, learn how to take control of their money in the Financial Literacy workshop, and discover what other workshops and services 21 Progress offers.
A light breakfast will be provided in the morning, as well as light snacks throughout the day. Free onsite parking will be available. Reserve a spot for the event by calling 206-829-8482 or registering online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please bring a photo ID and a voided check. Applicants under 18 must bring a parent or guardian.
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.
Below is an interview with an undocumented student, Jae Jun (Brian) Lee:
“This is my home”
Interview with an undocumented student
How did you arrive in the U.S., and what is your current legal status?
My mom brought me here when I was four. She was a pattern maker in the textile industry, and she raised me until I was 18 and a half. She was not healthy so she went back to Korea and I was left by myself for the next six years with no money, nothing. I’m still undocumented.
How did you support yourself?
I had been accepted at UC San Diego but could not get a loan, work or drive. I just started working under-the-table jobs, transferred to Santa Monica Community College and put myself through school working a bunch of different jobs. In 2008, I transferred to UCLA and went to school for a quarter, then dropped out to work for three to six months and save up to pay for another quarter, over and over. It’s been six years and I’m finally in my last year.
What was it like growing up undocumented?
I knew I was different but I didn’t really care or appreciate what it meant, until I started trying to get a driver’s license. You just basically keep a low profile and don’t commit crimes.
Did your friends know you were undocumented?
Yes. I haven’t been super secretive about it. I’ve been ashamed of it but if people asked me I always tell them. I’ve never hidden my identity.
Do you ever worry about being deported?
I don’t think the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) goes looking for undocumented students, especially DREAMers. I kind of assume I won’t get into any trouble. I’ve done advocacy work in L.A., sharing my story, advocating for the DREAM Act, held workshops and fundraisers for students. I’ve been proactive. Being public helps — if they come arrest me I would have a lot of publicity pressuring to let me go. But I would never actively place myself in the possession of the INS.
How did the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program help you?
I got a Social Security number, work permit, and driver’s license, and in February I got a job offer from a mid-tier accounting firm and several other offers. DACA is a great program — it’s largely a stopgap measure until the federal DREAM act or some other immigration reform happens.
Do you ever consider going back to Korea?
No, I grew up here and this is my home. Korea is a foreign place to me.