President Barack Obama’s “band-aid” on the immigration system, according to this article in the Guardian, faces problems in applications, as one writer notes, because of the program's high cost. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, provides two-year work permits for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday. But something that both journalists and immigration law firms in San Antonio have noticed is that of the estimated 1.09 million individuals eligible for the program, only about half that have applied. In searching for reasons behind the lack of participation, one journalist comes up with a clue: cost.
Applying to the DACA program is a whopping $465. While that amount may seem insignificant for many middle-class Americans, for the 35 percent of eligible DACA individuals living with incomes 100 percent below the poverty level, it’s a lot of cash. Just how much? Well, if you’re at 100 percent of the federal poverty level, your family of five lives on less than $27,570. And in most urban places in America, that means that $465 is likely more than a month’s rent, more than a month’s grocery budget, more than you can afford in an entire year in healthcare costs, and if you’re lucky, about how much your shared family vehicle is worth. Forget paying for an immigration attorney or signing up with an immigration law firm: we can’t afford to even apply to legally work in the U.S. And for families with more than one child eligible for the DACA program? It seems hopeless.
The DACA paperwork isn’t simple, either. With supporting documentation required such as birth certificates, school transcripts and records from officials, plus mailing costs, the amount of time and money it takes to get the DACA application together, the process can seem overwhelming for most families. Luckily, there’s help. Immigration law firms teaming up with local and state bar associations, as well as other legal organizations, have set up free DACA clinics. Lending circles and generous grant funders can sometimes make up the difference in cost for what families can afford and what is required. However, as with any situation involving money and people who need it, scammers have cropped up. Especially tricky are businesses advertising as notarios, a term which in Mexico and Latin America signifies legal experts. Charging exorbitant fees and giving bogus legal advice, notarios take advantage of the susceptibility to scams and distrust of the government on the part of many undocumented immigrants.
Some organizations have issued warnings against scammers and remind undocumented immigrants not to pay for the application - as it can be found for free through USCIS. There are, however, DACA applicants who can’t afford to cut costs by attending free DACA clinics. People currently in deportation and anyone with red flags on their criminal record should seek professional help from licensed attorneys associated with legitimate immigration law firms in San Antonio. The process may be slow, and many applicants do need assistance, but for many the DACA programs offer hope of naturalization and a path to citizenship…when they can afford it.