By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
About two dozen Hispanic immigrants gathered at La Casita Center in Old Louisville Jan. 22 to have attorneys — experienced in immigration law — break down the new executive orders issued by President Barack Obama on Nov. 20.
This informational session was one of five held during the month of January at locations including St. Bartholomew, St. Edward and St. Rita churches in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The Catholic Church has long called for comprehensive immigration reform which would bring millions of undocumented people into the light of mainstream America.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), welcomed the news of the executive orders.
“There is an urgent pastoral need for a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law,” said the archbishop in a statement issued by the USCCB Nov. 20.
“ ‘Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved,’ ” said the archbishop, quoting Pope Francis.
Rachel Mendoza-Newton — an attorney from Russell Immigration Law Firm who led the information session at La Casita — advised the group that while immigration laws can be complex there are three important parts to this new immigration package about which they should learn.
The executive orders will expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA) created in 2012, allowing for temporary relief of deportation and work authorization for certain young people who were brought to this country under the age of 16.
The expansion of DACA extends work authorization to three years instead of two. It also removes the age ceiling which had restricted applicants to those age 30 and younger. The updated version of DACA allows young people brought to the U.S. as late as Jan. 1, 2010, to apply, whereas the original program had a cut off date of June 15, 2007.
The Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) is a newly-created program under the executive order. This program will give a temporary reprieve from deportation and work authorization for three years to the parents of U.S. citizens born before Nov. 20, 2014. Parents of permanent residents qualify as well, providing the son or daughter was a permanent resident as of Nov. 20, 2014.
The third most important part of the new immigration package, Mendoza-Newton said, is a memorandum which clarifies and explains the “priority list for deportation” which will target those who’ve committed crimes involving terrorism and espionage, among other things.
Karina Barillas, director of the non-profit La Casita Center which serves Hispanic/Latino families, said these new orders are not exactly immigration reform, but that “it’s better than nothing at all.” She believes the order will help some families.
Barillas said immigrants living in the U.S. without the proper documents are vulnerable to crime and exploitation.
That situation “puts women and children in a position where they are vulnerable to victimization and domestic violence,” she said.
Barillas believes these new policies will lead to safer communities.
“Those who benefit will be registered in the system and be able to report crimes without fear,” she said.
Tania Avalos — who was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. as a child — has benefitted from DACA and is now a senior at the University of Louisville. She said the new policies are “crucial for families.”
“It’ll give them a sense of protection and allow them to breathe a little,” Avalos said. “They’ve dedicated years to the United States’ workforce and deserve it.”
According to information provided by the attorneys during the information session, those immigrants who’ve committed crimes which fall into the category of felonies and significant misdemeanors will not be eligible to apply for these immigration benefits. Attorney Ted Farrell — who was on the panel at La Casita Center — said it is estimated that between 25,000 and 27,000 people will benefit in the commonwealth of Kentucky.
DACA goes into effect this month and DAPA will go into effect in May.
Mendoza-Newton cautioned those who attended the session to be careful of immigration fraud. Some unqualified people, she said, claim to have expertise in immigration law, but are unqualified. Others, Barillas noted, are trying to sell false application forms. When the documents are available, the forms will be free.