At first, Nancy Perez couldnt believe the news: After 25 years of living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant, she would finally be able to come out of the shadows and live without fear of deportation.
When I first found out, I couldnt believe it, said the 38-year-old mother of three U.S. citizens. I thought, Could this be true?
Like many other undocumented immigrants, Perez was surprised when she heard President Barack Obama announce in November a series of executive actions to grant temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to millions of undocumented immigrants.
Obamas actions include a new deferred action program for the parents of U.S. citizen children and lawful permanent residents. The program is dubbed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.
The presidents actions also include the expansion of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children to stay and work. Obama expanded the DACA program by removing the previous age cap of 31 and adjusting the date of entry requirement from June 15, 2007 to January 1, 2010.
Perez, whos originally from Mexico and now lives in Arizona, qualifies for the expanded DACA program. She wants to be one of the first people to apply when the federal government begins accepting applications on Feb. 18.
I feel that life is going to change not only for me, but also for my children and my husband, she said, adding that she wants to get a job if shes approved for DACA and is granted a work permit.
Perez is among the millions of undocumented immigrants who are preparing to apply for Obamas immigration programs.
While immigrants can begin applying for the expanded DACA program next week, those applying for the DAPA program will have to wait a little longer. The federal government will begin accepting applications for DAPA on May 20. The application fee for both programs will be $465.
In the meantime, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is preparing for the massive new workload thatll come from processing thousands of new applications from people applying for the expanded DACA program and the new DAPA program. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that USCIS projects 1.3 million people will apply in the first six months, adding to the estimated 6 million petitions and applications that the agency already processes every year.
Chris Bentley, a spokesman for USCIS, explained in a statement to VOXXI how the agency is planning to pay for the cost of implementing recent Obamas executive actions on immigration.
USCIS estimates that activities related to implementing the administrative actions, which include but are not limited to the expanded DACA and the DAPA policies, is projected to yield sufficient new fee-based revenue to cover expenses expected to range between $324 and $484 million per year over the next few years, Bentley said.
Immigration advocacy groups are also busy planning how theyre going to help people prepare to apply for Obamas immigration programs. Many of them have already started working on those efforts.
In Arizona, several advocacy groups got together and formed the Arizona Implementation Working Group through which they plan to hold community forums to educate the states immigrant community about the expanded DACA and DAPA programs. The first forum will be held next Saturday. In the future, the working group plans to hold workshop to help immigrants with the application process.
Were really pushing so that our community takes advantage of these actions by the president, said Abril Gallardo, a 24-year-old DACA recipient and program coordinator for LUCHA Arizona, one of the members of the working group.
On the other side of the country, the New York Immigration Coalition is working on similar efforts. The group is hosting information sessions to help people determine if theyre eligible for the expanded DACA program or the new DAPA program.
The group is also teaming up with the Office for New Americanswhich runs 27 opportunity centers in New York to help immigrants learn English, become citizens and start businesses. Together, they plan to establish a statewide consortium of groups, including government agencies and legal providers, to help immigrants apply for Obamas deferred action programs.
They form a huge part of our coordinating efforts, Thanu Yakupitiyage, a spokeswoman for the New York Immigration Coalition, said of the Office for New Americans.
Meanwhile, CASA de Maryland, which recently changed its name to CASA, is holding workshops to help people prepare for the presidents immigration programs. Once the federal government begins accepting applications, the group plans to hold workshops to help people gather and fill out the necessary documents to apply.
CASA also plans to expand its efforts to more than one state. Theyll be helping people in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Luis Aguilar, volunteer coordinator for CASA, said his group is counting on community members to help with the efforts.
It will be overwhelming if we dont not have enough volunteers helping us, he said.
Aguilar added that CASA is encouraging those who qualify for Obamas immigration programs to get involved so that well be a stronger group once we start working towards the next battle.
That next battle, Yakupitiyage said, is immigration reform. She called Obamas executive actions on immigration an important step in the direction of immigration reform and noted that these actions by the president are only temporary.
We need to continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform, because we need a permanent solution to the issue of immigration in this country, she said.
Gallardo echoed that message, saying there are millions of undocumented immigrants who dont qualify for Obamas executive actions on immigration. That includes her parents, whove been living in the U.S. for more than a decade.
I want our community to take advantage of this relief, but also to never forget how we got here and that we must continue to fight to get relief for the other people who didnt qualify, Gallardo said.