On Monday, nearly 200 immigrant advocates gathered in Manhattan to discuss preparations for a major “immigration event”—this could be the passage of comprehensive immigration reform or an executive action by President Barack Obama that would provide administrative relief for the more than a thousand immigrants per day being deported.
Whether it is legislative reform or administrative relief, many of the agencies represented were not prepared for even a small immigration event such as the expansion of DACA (Deferred Action for Child Arrivals). In fact, the response of the non-profits to DACA two years ago shows the limitations of these organizations.
When DACA was announced by Obama in June 2012, it offered hope that undocumented DREAMers could finally get temporary relief from deportation and a work permit. Non-profits were only given 60 days to gear up for the start of the registration and almost none of them were able to secure grants to help cover the costs of the program.
When thousands of young immigrants flooded into the offices of non-profits on the first day of registration on August 15, 2012, these organizations were overwhelmed. Not able to get services, these prospective applicants turned to Notarios practicing law without a license or attorneys who often overcharged them. Lawyers who usually charged $200 per hour suddenly hiked fees to $700 or more.
Monday’s conference, hosted by the New York Immigration Coalition, was an attempt to help the non-profits foresee the gaps in services when the next big immigration event occurs. It was really a first step toward getting the non-profits to begin planning now. And it was timely. In one session, a panelist asked how many of the 70 people in the room had opened up a serious discussion at their organizations on planning for an immigration event. Only five people raised their hands.
History tells us that unless there are funders, government officials, and non-profit organization with the foresight to plan, massive immigration events will not result in optimal benefits for immigrants. Immigrants will fall through the cracks by the tens of thousands and many will fall prey to unscrupulous operators.