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Adelante, ABLE host immigration sessions

The following article, written by Kevin Milliken, appeared in La Prensa on January 14, 2015.

Adelante, Inc. and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) teamed up to host an immigration information session on President Barack Obama's recent executive order at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 728 S. St. Clair St., following noon mass on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. The event drew more than 125 people, all of whom packed into a community room at the church.

The session turned out to be a frank discussion on what the president's recent executive order can do for undocumented families—as well as its limits. Several staff members from each agency, as well as Lucas County officials gave up their Sunday afternoon to ensure families understood their options.

"It's so important. It matters. Here we can reach a lot of people, particularly the people who may be able to benefit from this great program," said Patty Hernández, ABLE attorney. "We want to make sure they take full advantage of it."

"We want to be ahead of the game and let people know not to be scammed, let people know what they have to do, start to get their paperwork in order to be the first in line," said Guisselle Mendoza, Adelante executive director. "We want to empower our community."

"We've been working for over a year to start building an initiative to make Toledo a more welcoming, immigrant-friendly community. We think this is a major component to do that," said Brittany Ford, executive assistant to Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken. "I don't think the public gets how big it is or how important it is. It's an economic imperative to work on these issues, as well as a social imperative."

ABLE attorneys estimate there may be as many as 20,000 undocumented immigrants living in Northwest Ohio, 10,000 to 15,000 of them in Lucas County alone. Not all of them will be eligible to take advantage of President Obama's Nov. 20 announcement of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and Permanent Legal Residents (LPR).

"They've been here a long time. They've been contributing members of our society and they finally have a way to get a little breathing room and be able to step forward out of the shadows," said Ms. Hernández.

ABLE attorneys made it clear that there is no official application process yet and that DAPA applications won't even be accepted or processed until May at the earliest.That is prompting many Latino-oriented agencies to warn their clients of so-called "notarios," scam artists who claim they can submit an application now or hold their place in line. There is great concern that as complicated as the process will be, many families may be taken advantage of by scammers who will charge a large fee and deliver nothing in return.

"There are some people who are unauthorized to practice immigration law," said Eugenio Mollo, ABLE managing attorney. "They're a fraud. They're unauthorized and untrained to practice immigration law. Sometimes they approach vulnerable communities, such as the undocumented community, promise an immigration benefit and then just take their money and not do anything."

DAPA only will cover adults who have been in the U.S. since before Jan. 1, 2010 and who have a child who is a U.S. citizen or has LPR status. That child must have been born before Nov. 20, 2014 and the parent must have continuously lived in the U.S. for that five-year period without lawful immigration status and not been convicted of certain crimes or engaged in illegal activity.

"DACA was originally to help children, unaccompanied minors who came to the United States as children through no fault of their own. DACA has now been expanded to help their parents as well," explained Ms. Hernández. "We are no longer deporting families, but allowing law-abiding families to remain in the United States for at least three years."

"People can begin to take steps to assemble documents. It'll make the process so much quicker once those immigration forms become available," said attorney Mollo. "I think the (Obama) administration is trying to make it as basic as possible, that there are basic requirements that people are going to have to meet. There are different ways to prove each of those elements."

"I cried when I heard the news (last November), because I know our clients have worked hard and dreamed, have big dreams to be better for their families, for their community," said Ms. Mendoza. "It's like an open door, so you're going to see a lot of the people willing and ready."

According to ABLE attorneys, the most important documents for undocumented immigrants to assemble now are birth certificates for themselves and their children."That proves that they do, in fact, have that qualifying relationship with that child," said Ms. Hernández.

"I think identity documents will be just as important," added Mollo. "So they want to make sure their passport, their matricular (I.D., obtained from the Mexican consulate if you are a Mexican National) or any form of foreign-issued identification or document is valid and up-to-date is something people should be working to collect."

A handout from the information session also instructs immigrant families to start gathering proof they were in the U.S. before Nov. 20, 2014 and in-country for at least five years. Documents that may be used as proof include W-2's, tax returns, pay stubs, union membership cards, bank statements, canceled checks, money order receipts, utility bills or receipts, car insurance bills or receipts, leases, rental agreements, medical records, and school or church records.

"It takes baby steps, steps to make sure you're doing what you're supposed to be doing and making sure you have the right documentation," said Ms. Mendoza. "We want to make sure they understand what it is—and isn't."

ABLE attorneys were quick to tell undocumented families that the whole process is subject to change over the next few months, as political wrangling continues between a Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic president.

"So there still is a need for comprehensive immigration reform," said Mollo. "Persons who are eligible for these programs will receive an employment authorization document making them eligible for a Social Security number. That's great, but this isn't a pathway to citizenship. This doesn't lead them to lawful permanent residency or any sort of permanent status. This is just a temporary reprieve."

ABLE's managing attorney pointed out the public commonly misunderstands what exactly the president's executive order means for the undocumented community. Political rhetoric has covered most of the details of the executive action, which Mollo likened to rungs in a ladder on the way to permanent citizenship.

"It's valuable. Our clients will still benefit from it. But it's not a full solution to the problem," said Mollo. "The farthest they can get with this is an employment authorization document, a step below a green card. It doesn't lead to a green card. It doesn't lead to lawful permanent residency status. It doesn't lead to citizenship. There is a hierarchy. They're here without status. This is just a step above that—work authorization."

Former Toledo city attorney Lourdes Santiago was among those in the audience. Now retired, she stated there would likely be a demand from volunteer lawyers to help as many undocumented families as possible in the coming months. So she wanted to learn more about the process ahead, knowing many Spanish-speaking families would not have the financial means to hire an attorney to help them to prepare and file the necessary paperwork.

There is another session set for Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015 at SS. Peter and Paul, following the noon mass. Similar information will be presented in both English and Spanish. Other sessions will be planned in the future in a number of different languages.