One year ago, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was implemented. Immigration attorney Regina Jefferies and Carmen Cornejo, with CADENA and the Arizona Dream Act Coalition discuss the successes, challenges, and results of the directive.
José Cárdenas: One year ago the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, was implemented. It's an initiative of the Obama administration. It does not provide permanent lawful status for applicants, but does give applicants a temporary suspension and authorization to work in the United States. Joining me now to talk about the impact the program has had on eligible young people is immigration attorney Regina Jeffries. Also is Carmen Cornejo with Cadena and the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. Thank you both for joining us once again on "Horizonte." It's good to have you both back to talk about basically the one-year anniversary of DACA. So let's start with an overview of what you have seen in the last year.
Carmen Cornejo: Yes, challenges and opportunities. I think DACA has provided a lot of peace of mind to the students, not to be subject to deportations anymore and also the work permit is a blessing. I can mention a lot of challenges. The drivers' license, they don't have the access to the driver's license which also becomes an I.D. issue and is preventing sometimes access for types of work.
José Cárdenas: The most recent assessments have been a little pessimistic. At least in the articles that have been in the paper recently suggesting that there's a lot of fanfare but really not much has changed. Do you disagree with that?
Carmen Cornejo: I disagree. It's reaching a lot of the potential the young persons have. The changes are not going to come like immediately. It's a process. The employees also need to understand the recommendations that are represented. They are not changing, radically speaking, their lives economically speaking, however, these processes are starting. We will see the effects, the positive effects of this initiative in some years.
José Cárdenas: Regina, what have you seen?
Regina Jeffries: I would echo a lot of what Carmen has said. That has continued the conversation for these young kids. It hasn't changed the economic opportunities for them. At least in Arizona some of the negative initiatives in the state regarding driver's licenses and placing other obstacles for people legally allowed to work but we also have seen some confusion about what the actual employment authorization document means.
José Cárdenas: Confusion amongst employers?
Regina Jeffries: Exactly. People not understanding that at least for the I-9 process, one of the things that someone can present is an employment authorization document from the Federal government and a social security card, which are two documents that dreamers under this plan or the deferred action recipients can actually get and are entitled to. And an employer cannot ask for additional documents on top of that.
José Cárdenas: What's your sense of the numbers nationally and locally in terms of those taking advantage of this status?
Regina Jeffries: I think I can speak on a national level. I think Carmen can give a better idea what's happening on an Arizona level. But I think that there have been over half a million applications for DACA on a national level. And I think as of right now there have been over 350,000 approvals. I can't give an exact number.
José Cárdenas: How does that stack up with what people were expecting when the program was first announced?
Regina Jeffries: It's less than what people were expecting, but I will say there's one thing that those numbers don't take into account and it's one thing I saw when talking to potential DACA applicants, is a lot of these kids are eligible for other types of immigration relief or applications that they may not have known about previously. And so I was actually able in a lot of cases to do other things, more permanent solutions for kids. And I know a lot of attorneys and other organizations like Chicanos por la Causa and community organizations were able to help kids out.
José Cárdenas: Carmen, both you and Regina have indicated the situation in Arizona may be such that people aren't as likely to go and seek this status. What's going on there?
Carmen Cornejo: Well, there's a lot of barriers for the young immigrants to access the process of DACA. Money is very important. $465 is a lot of money for poor families. Sometimes the families have one or two or three possible applicants. So it's a big barrier. There's also a lot of misinformation still about the process. I think the 19,000 that have already applied for DACA are the ones that have all the information in their hands.
José Cárdenas: 19,000 in Arizona?
Carmen Cornejo: In Arizona. They are the ones who were better prepared, that knew, they were expecting something, or like as part of them participating in the access for the process of administrative relief. They are better prepared to put forward the documentation. But we still have a lot of persons who have not all the information. There's some barriers of the GED situation. They cannot, they haven't completed the high school requirement and the GED. But DACA allows them to apply for a program of GED and access the process. But they are still trying to find the right place to access the GED instruction.
José Cárdenas: Are they being turned down by the officials in charge of that program or what's happening?
Carmen Cornejo: Well, the problem is the funding. If the states don't fund the GED program they, are not going to have access to it. Because the legislation here in Arizona. However, there's community organizations that offer instruction. They can access that. Sometimes it's expensive. I always recommend them to go to Rio Salado because that's not funded by the state. The only problem is that the instruction is online only. The one that they can access.
José Cárdenas: Regina, one of the other things that seems to be discouraging and has been discussed in some of articles recently the fact that while these people are able to get their employer authorization document, they can't get to work because they can't get driver's licenses. What's the status of the litigation involving that issue?
Regina Jeffries: The status of the litigation, the judge essentially refused to issue a preliminary injunction. But the case is still pending in Federal court. And so I think that we will have to kind of wait and see where things go with that. But it does seem that the judges indicated that the ACLU and the plaintiffs' side have a strong side on the litigation.
José Cárdenas: One of the issues that's come to light recently are groups from outside the state of Arizona that have come in here and staged some events that have been subject to criticism, most recently the group that sent some people across the border and tried to get them back into the United States. I know you have had some concerns about that.
Carmen Cornejo: Yes. This is the same group that argued civil disobedience events that was very confrontational a couple of years ago. They are going state by state with those kinds of events. I have a lot of concerns about that because they are tweaking with the concept of asylum, political asylum. And another consideration that to the lawyers, discretion and also we don't want the dreamers to be seen as a political activist so much. I think we need to have them in a very positive view as fighting for their education and fighting for the benefits that are entitled under the DACA program.
José Cárdenas: Based upon what you both said a lot of progress over the last year but a lot more to do, I take it?
Carmen Cornejo: A lot.
José Cárdenas: Thanks to both of you for joining this evening to talk about that.
Regina Jeffries: Thank you.
José Cárdenas: Appreciate it.
Regina Jefferies:Immigration Attorney;Carmen Cornejo:CADENA and The Arizona Dream Act Coalition;