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New Policy For Young Immigrants Creates Paperwork Deluge

Dec 12, 2012
Originally published on December 12, 2012 6:29 pm

In the six months since a new law opened a path to temporary legal status for some young immigrants in the U.S., more than 300,000 people have applied — and have rushed to request qualifying documents from their schools.

The law, Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, offers legal status, renewable every two years, to people ages 30 and younger who were brought to the country as children. Applicants must prove they were in the U.S. for five consecutive years — something most easily achieved through school transcripts.

Crowds formed in San Diego when DACA-eligible families started arriving with transcript requests, says Bea Fernandez with the San Diego Unified School District.

"The school district opens up, and you have 80 people there with children, and waiting in line and requesting documents," she says. "And it started happening on a daily basis — sometimes as early as 5:30 — coming from out of town."

Streamlining By Centralizing Requests

After several days of long lines, the district opened a DACA office at the district's Ballard Parent Center to expedite transcript requests.

Fernandez, who runs the office, says eager parents still come in daily, armed with an incredible amount of supporting documentation.

"You'd be surprised how many families come here with their little folders of every report card or award that their child has received," Fernandez says.

The office was originally slated to close in December but due to strong demand, Fernandez says, it will remain open well into the new year.

The Los Angeles Unified School District — the second-largest public school system in the country — faced the same problem on a much larger scale.

Lydia Ramos, assistant to Superintendent John Deasy, says the system has the largest DACA-eligible population in the country. School officials knew the paperwork demands would take a toll at the individual school level, she says, particularly "in an environment where, in California, our schools have been ravaged by the budget cuts over the last four years."

To take the burden off individual schools, district officials chose to provide transcripts from its back-up data stored at headquarters, Ramos says.

That data shows a student's academic history with attached home addresses — vital for satisfying the law's residency requirement. The system reduced waiting time from weeks to mere days.

An Opportunity — But A Financial Burden

But even with these efforts to streamline requests in Los Angeles and San Diego, 4 out of 5 DACA-eligible young immigrants in California aren't applying.

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, director of communications for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, says expense is a huge barrier. Just as it costs money to apply for a passport, there are costs associated with DACA credentials. Cabrera says the $465 fee for each DACA application is a daunting amount for poor families to pay.

"Families have to make a tough decision between applying for deferred action, which will help someone come out of the shadows, or pay for rent," Cabrera says. "It's literally that serious of an issue."

The burden is compounded for the many families who have more than one young child who is DACA-eligible.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

A quick update now on the program that has come to be known as DACA - that stands for Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals. It gives temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Since the program began, more than 300,000 people have applied and that has generated mountains of paperwork.

CORNISH: Among the program's guidelines, applicants have to prove they've been in the U.S. for five consecutive years. The quickest way to do that is through school transcripts.

As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, in California, that's challenged an already over-burdened school system.

KAREN GRISBY BATES, BYLINE: As soon as President Obama announced DACA would become law, thousands of potential applicants rushed to request their school transcripts. Down in San Diego, Bea Fernandez describes how things looked at several schools in her area on the first day DACA-eligible families arrived to request transcripts.

BEA FERNANDEZ: Once day, school district opens up and you have, like, 80 people there with children and waiting in line and requesting documents. And it started happening on a daily basis. Some waited as early as 5:30, coming from out of town.

BATES: Fernandez is in charge of the DACA office at the Ballard Parent Center. After several days of long lines, the San Diego Unified School System opened the office to help expedite transcript requests. Fernandez says eager parents still come in every day, bringing an incredible amount of supporting documentation.

FERNANDEZ: You'd be surprised how many families come here with their little folders of every report card or award that their child has received in education.

BATES: The office was originally slated to close in December, but Fernandez says it will remain open well into the New Year because of strong demand.

Up in Los Angeles, L.A.'s Unified School District faced the same problem on a much larger scale. L.A. is the second-largest public school system in the country. Lydia Ramos, assistant to superintendent John Deasy, said because the system has the largest DACA-eligible population in the country, they knew the increased demand would take its toll.

LYDIA RAMOS: If students went to individual schools - that was going to overwhelm those schools in an environment where, in California, our schools have been ravaged by the budget cuts over the last four years.

BATES: So, Ramos says, district headquarters chose to provide transcripts from its back up data stored at headquarters. That data showed a student's academic history with attached home addresses, vital for satisfying the residency requirement. And centralizing the process reduced waiting time from weeks to mere days.

Even with improvements to streamline the systems in L.A. and San Diego, though, four out of five DACA-eligible young California immigrants aren't applying.

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, says money is a huge barrier. Just as it costs to apply for a passport, there are costs associated with DACA credentials. Cabrera says the $465 fee for each DACA application is a daunting amount for poor families to pay.

JORGE-MARIO CABRERA: Families have to make a tough decision between applying for deferred action, which will help someone come out of the shadows, or pay for rent. It's literally that serious of an issue.

BATES: And it's a gravity that's compounded for many families that have more than one young person who is DACA eligible.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.