Immigrants hoping for deferred deportation status have another two to six months before applications will become available for President Obama’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions program.
But many of them don’t know that.
Attorneys and refugee organizations in Texas have been working non-stop to answer the tide of questions arising from the president’s speech.
What to do next is the big question, and the answer is layered by individual circumstances but also by the delay in getting info from the government.
“When can they apply? How much is it going to cost? All these questions are abounding right now because the details are very few,” said Jonathan Ryan, Executive Director of Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
Ryan worked with Spanish-language TV stations in San Antonio for three days of telethons starting immediately on the evening of the president’s Nov. 20 speech. Since then, he has added community workshops. RAICES estimated its attorneys have spoken with 3,000 undocumented residents so far.
“What we do more than anything is we just clarify what the president announced," Ryan said. "At this point, nobody can give specific immigration advice to anybody about whether they’re eligible because we don’t have the specific instructions, the specific points of eligibility. We just know the broad strokes at this point and the government has three to six months during which it’s going to fill in the detail.”
Catholic Television of San Antonio is starting a monthly call-in program in January, underwritten in part by the Texas Bar Foundation. CTSA’s J. Antonio Fernandez said many residents just want someone they can trust.
“Some of their questions are, ‘How do I get a VISA to work? Can I go back to Mexico if I am here working legally? Do I have to pay taxes?’ So things like that - very simple questions. But I think sometimes people are afraid to go to lawyers or they feel like coming to Catholic Charities because they think we are the church, they feel safe here, that’s no one is going to deport them,” Fernandez said.
Law schools are helping too. Adriane Meneses is the supervising attorney of the Immigration Human Rights Clinic at St. Mary’s University, which is advising clients on paperwork they’ll need to document five years of residence – and that includes tax returns. Meneses said contrary to the popular rhetoric that says undocumented immigrants don’t pull their weight, most of them are paying income tax.
“There are millions of people that dutifully pay their income taxes every year with I-TIN numbers," Meneses said. "In fact – and I’ve seen multiple hundreds of people’s paperwork – I would say that the majority of our DACA applicants here in San Antonio bring in, as part of the evidence that they’ve been here for the required amount of time, bring in the tax returns on which they are listed – usually the parents’ tax returns or for the older applicants, their own tax returns. In fact, it’s somewhat unusual when we come across an applicant who doesn’t have an I-TIN.”
RAICES spokesman Mohammed Abdollahi said undocumented residents are not usually discovered and deported as a result of having a relationship with the Internal Revenue Service.
“In the past what we’ve told folks for deferred action and those cases, the IRS doesn’t care about your legal status. They just want to make sure they get their tax money.”
A 2010 Social Security Administration report, "Effects of the Unauthorized immigration on the Actuarial Status of the Social Security Trust Funds," stated that earnings by unauthorized immigrants resulted in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status and contributed roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the program for 2010.
According to the most recent information from the White House, immigrants protected under the executive order will become eligible for Social Security after ten years of contributions – but the money already paid into the system under phony social security numbers will not be returned to them.
They will not be eligible for other federal benefits such as welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, or benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
Ryan tells applicants coming to RAICES that they have a lot of work ahead of them in the next several months to get their paperwork together.
“They’re going to have to go to their consulates, potentially, to seek passports or national IDs. People are going to have to start proving their physical presence, because in both groups – DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability) – they must have been physically present in this country since January 1, 2010.”
In the meantime, they have to watch out for fraud – people who would promise them a quick application process – or who promise to remove a DWI or other offense that would disqualify them.
Current estimates are that more than 4.5 million people may be eligible for protection from deportation.