Community advocates in Stanislaus County and even the state attorney general are warning residents to be wary of opportunists looking for a big payday as thousands apply for a federal program that offers illegal immigrants a chance to stay and work.
The Obama administration in June announced it would ease enforcement of immigration laws, deferring deportation of young people who illegally entered the country as children with their families and have remained here ever since.
Although the eight-page application for the program is not complicated, the process of obtaining the needed documents can be. Many are seeking legal guidance and local groups have stepped up to offer free help.
Yet residents have heard of some immigration consultants offering to review the documents and help submit the application at a high cost.
Homero Mejia of Congregations Building Community said some people have reported seeing businesses along Crows Landing Road in south Modesto that offer these services for $700, $1,500 or $2,000.
He says reputable attorneys would charge clients $300 to $500 to have a paralegal help fill out the application and collect the necessary documents before a qualified lawyer reviews the application prior to submitting it to the federal government.
Free public workshops
Mejia is part of the Dream Act Coalition of Stanislaus County, which has held free community forums to educate the public about the change in immigration policy. The group has scheduled three workshops in the next two months to help young immigrants submit their applications.
Some businesses, Mejia said, are erroneously promising applicants that once they qualify for the deferred action program, their family members will automatically qualify for the program.
“That’s scary,” Mejia said. “They should wait until we have the (free) workshops.”
Each applicant must meet the requirements and submit proof they’re in good standing with the government. Mejia said there’s no amount of money that will speed up the approval process or guarantee relatives can live in the United States without fear of deportation.
There is a $460 government administrative fee to submit the application. It’s too early to know how long the approval process will take, Mejia said. It depends on how many applications are submitted and how much government manpower is available for the program.
When the application for deferred action became available in mid-August, state Attorney General Kamala Harris warned Californians about potential scams targeting young immigrants. The attorney general’s office cautioned that immigrants are often the target of consumer scams, so they should be vigilant in seeking assistance.
Here are some tips from the attorney general’s office:
• To determine whether someone is a lawyer licensed by the State Bar of California visit www.calbar.ca.gov or call (800) 843-9053.
• Immigration consultants are required to register with the state secretary of state’s office and to post a $50,000 bond. To verify, visit www.sos.ca.gov/business/sf/bond_search or call (916) 653-3984.
• It’s against the law for an immigration consultant to give legal advice. A consultant can give only nonlegal help, such as translating answers to questions on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services forms.
• Obtain a signed and dated contract from the immigration consultant that lists full name and contact information, the services you were promised and how much you agreed to pay. The contract must be in English and your native language. You have the right to cancel the contract within 72 hours of signing.
• To file a complaint against an immigration consultant online, visit the state attorney general’s office’s Web site atwww.oag.ca.gov or mail your complaint to Office of the Attorney General, Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee. com or (209) 578-2394.
DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS
The change in federal immigration policy is geared toward young people who were brought to the United States as children and entered the country illegally.
The program offers these immigrants work permits and allows them to live in the United States without fear of deportation. Those approved have to reapply every two years.
Qualified applicants will then have a chance at obtaining a driver’s license and applying for government-funded college financial aid. Immigrants who are approved for the program do not automatically qualify for permanent legal resident status or U.S. citizenship.
Federal officials estimate the policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants.
As many as 350,000 people in California could benefit from the program, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Some local advocates estimate that as many as 10,000 people in Stanislaus County might meet the requirements of the program.
• • •
• Age 30 or younger as of June 15, 2012
• Arrived in the United States before age 16
• Physically present June 15 and living continuously in the United States for at least five years
• In school, a high school graduate, holds a general equivalency diploma or is an honorably discharged U.S. military veteran
• Has no felony convictions, multiple or significant misdemeanor convictions, and does not pose a threat to national security or public safety
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
• • •
• Anyone with more questions on the deferred action for childhood arrivals process can call U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at (800) 375-5283 or go to www.uscis.gov to obtain a copy of the program’s application.
• Applicants can seek and pay for their own legal guidance if necessary while applying for the federal program.
Local community groups and individuals have volunteered to offer free help to residents in Stanislaus County. The group held a series of community forums to educate the public on the ins and outs of the deferred action program.
The group is offering workshops featuring one-on-one help for applicants to ensure their application is complete and that they have all the needed documents.
• • •
Free deportation deferral workshops:
• Sept. 22: Hanshaw Middle School, 1725 Las Vegas St., south Modesto
• Oct. 13: California State University, Stanislaus, West Monte Vista Avenue and Crowell Road, Turlock, (location on campus will be e-mailed to registered participants)
• Oct. 27: Argus High School, 2555 Lawrence St., Ceres
Arrive at 8 a.m. and plan to be there until at least 3 p.m.; bring a lunch. Do not bring children who are not applying; there will be room only for applicants and one parent for each.
You must be registered to attend: E-mail email@example.com with your location preference and date on the subject line. For example: Hanshaw Sept. 22.
Nearly 300 people have registered. There are still spots available for the Oct. 27 workshop.
In the e-mail, provide your name and phone number and you will receive a confirmation by e-mail. If you do not have e-mail access or want information on what documents to bring, call (209) 523-2860.
Source: Dream Act Coalition of Stanislaus County