|A volunteer at Just Neighbors helps a client apply for deferred action.|
Since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (announced Aug. 15 that is opening the door a crack to let undocumented youths apply to work here for two years without fear of deportation, the phones have been ringing nonstop at Annandale/Mason-area nonprofit organizations that assist immigrants.
To apply for what USCIS calls “deferred action,” individuals must be 30 or younger; a high school graduate or in school or honorably discharged from the U.S. military; came to the U.S. when they were under age 16; and continuously lived in the states for at least five years. They cannot have been convicted of a crime or pose a threat to national security or public safety.
“That means they can come out of the shadows and start contributing to the community,” says Rob Rutland-Brown, executive directors of Just Neighbors, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to immigrants.
“We’ve been inundated with folks wanting to apply. Within the first 24 hours, we scheduled 77 people. There’s a lot of excitement,” Rutland-Brown says.
Just Neighbors has had to bring in extra volunteers to help with the volume. About 30 people responded to an email seeking volunteers. “I’ve been impressed with how many people have stepped up,” he says. Approximately 14,000 people in Virginia are eligible for deferred action.
There are a lot of documentation requirements, and for the most part, people coming to Just Neighbors have been very well organized, Rutland-Brown says. To prove they’ve lived in the country for five years, they have to bring school report cards, transcripts, utility bills, medical records, or something like that with their address.
“We’ve been swamped with folks wanting help,” says Dan Choi, an attorney with the Falls Church branch of the Legal Aid Justice Center.
That organization has been doing presentations on deferred action for community groups and coordinating with other organizations, including Just Neighbors, Ayuda, Catholic Charities, and the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO).
“The response is overwhelming,” says VACOLAO Chair Edgar Aranda, who notes that more than 260 people showed up at a mid-day information session on deferred action at St. Charles Barromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon.
“We’re giving general consultations” to young immigrants, Choi says. “A lot of young people will be able to work for the first time. Most of these people don’t even speak Spanish because they grew up here.”
Deferred action is a “short-term solution,” he says. It doesn’t go as far as the Dream Act, which would allow eligible young immigrants to eventually seek citizenship and pay the in-state tuition rate for higher education.
Aranda says it’s crucial that people applying for deferred action fill out the forms correctly and bring the appropriate documentation. . There is no appeals process. VACOLAO’s presentations include warnings to immigrants to make sure they don’t get involved with scam artists who will take advantage of them.
“It’s a great opportunity for young immigrants,” he says. “They will be able to contribute to the economy.”