LOS ANGELES -- Immigrant rights advocates in California launched a new campaign this week to help immigrants prepare for President Obama’s executive actions, initiatives that would protect 3 to 5 million of the nation’s undocumented from deportation.
Organizers held a rally and press conference May 19 to announce the launch of Ready California, a multi-ethnic coalition that aims to help California immigrants take full advantage of the deportation relief program that was originally slated to go into effect that day.
Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) would protect parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents from deportation. The program has been put on hold pending a court ruling, but organizers expect the courts to uphold its legality. And when they do, organizers say, they want California to be prepared.
At a press briefing organized by New America Media, leaders of the Ready California coalition said they would also help the state’s undocumented prepare for another Obama executive action delayed by court action – the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The expansion would eliminate an age cap, providing deportation protection to older undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
DAPA and expanded DACA “will enable people to come out of the shadows,” said Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center, one of a number of Ready California members who spoke at the briefing. “Though there is delay,” she said, “we are not dismayed.”
Kinoshita said Ready California’s “diverse coalition of groups” will provide undocumented immigrants with legal assistance and help them assemble documentation required to apply for the two immigration programs. The coalition includes legal services providers, labor unions, faith-based groups and organizations that advocate on behalf of the undocumented in Latino, Asian and black immigrant communities. Coalition members say their campaign is needed to make undocumented immigrants more aware of DAPA and DACA and help them avoid scam artists who might offer application assistance in exchange for a fee.
“We don’t want people to be taken in by fraud,” said Alvaro Huerta, staff attorney of National Immigration Law Center. “We want them to get ready and get documents in order and we don’t want them to have to pay for help.”
But even if the programs went into effect today, the reality is that California – home to 1.5 million undocumented immigrants – does not have enough counselors to help implement it, according to Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “The federal government hasn’t provided any resources to implement the programs,” she said.
Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean account for about 10 percent of the nation’s immigrant population but the undocumented among those communities are deported at greater rates than other populations, said Rev. Kelvin Sauls, co-founder and chairman of Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
“The black immigrant community can benefit greatly from DAPA and DACA,” said Rev. Sauls, who is also pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. “Preparation is a key to integrating immigrants into society.”
There are about 400,000 undocumented Asians in California, yet many of those eligible for existing DACA protection have not applied, said Aman Thind, immigration project director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-L.A.
“We must help find community leaders who can spread the word,” she said.
Meanwhile, undocumented parents of U.S.-citizen children said that DAPA would help them live without a constant sense of fear.
“We have been in the shadow of fear – constant fear of deportation,” said Salvador Huerta, a father of five who has worked in strawberry fields for 16 years. “I think about what my family will do if I’m not here. Children [of undocumented immigrants] have hopes and dreams and it makes me sad when families are torn apart.”
Huerta called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and “think about the families they are separating.”
Isabel Medina, a mother of three, noted that much of the opposition to immigration reform and Obama’s executive actions has come from the Republican Party.
“When Obama announced the [executive] actions,” she said, “we were so happy, because we would be able to come out of the shadows. But now we’re just waiting for Republicans...They have to acknowledge that we contribute to this great nation.”
Similar sentiments were expressed at a rally following the press briefing.
“There may be a delay but we are not discouraged,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, one of about a dozen speakers at the rally. “If you believe in family values, you should support DACA and DAPA.”
New America Media is working in collaboration with the Ready California campaign. For more information about Ready California, go to ready-california.org.
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