I watched President Barack Obama make the announcement of his administrative relief program last Thursday during CARECEN’s 31st Anniversary Dinner. One hundred and eight-five guests watched as the president announced the largest immigration program in three decades.
A dozen minutes later, when the president left the podium, the audience applauded loudly, but you could sense the disappointment as people realized that immigrants they knew were being left out. The announcement was great news for nearly half of Long Island’s undocumented, but it was disappointing for the rest.
The next day we opened with extra staff on duty to meet any surge in people seeking help. While walk-ins were more than double our normal rate, we did not see the sort of choking flood of clients that we had feared.
The program has three major components for undocumented immigrants. The first is an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for DREAMers. The second offers work permits to the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs). The third allows spouses and children of LPRs to obtain waivers of the bar on re-entry to the U.S. after unlawful presence.
Very few people called us about the DACA expansion. One day we did not get a single call about that part of the program. Since the expansion should increase the number of people eligible for DACA by 50 percent this surprised us. In 2012, when the first DACA program was announced, CARECEN was flooded with 700 DREAMers in just 10 weeks. However, so far there has been very little interest in this expansion.
We have had a steady stream of inquiries on the visa waivers, but overwhelmingly, the immigrants seeking help are the parents of LPRs and citizens. They make up about 90 percent of the people we are seeing. This is also the program that we have the least guidance from the Department of Homeland Security about.
I will provide occasional updates on what I am seeing, and I am interested in comments from others interacting with the immigrant community on this program.