“The devil is in the details, and we don’t have that many details, yet,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, an attorney in the center’s Immigrant Advocacy program.
The Legal Aid Justice Center is one of the sponsors of a community forum to explain the president’s action and answer questions from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 4 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. “Come to it,” Sandoval-Meshenberg said. “And, as of right now, there is nothing to apply for, so don’t be fooled.”
Here’s a partial transcript of our conversation with Sandoval-Meshenberg. (Read Storyline’s previous immigration coverage here.)
So, right now, what’s the most pressing unanswered question?
We don’t know, but we’re assuming this new program for parents is going to look a lot like DACA. (DACA is the president’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that granted temporary permission to live and work in the United States to undocumented young people brought here as children.) For DACA kids, for the most part, you basically prove eligibility by stapling school records to the applications because for the average kid, you’ve pretty much been in school since you arrived. Those school records prove they came into the country before they were 16 because they have school records that show they were enrolled in school before they were 16. Those records show they came before X date, because they were enrolled in school before X date.
But, for the parents, it will be a different story. There is no such entity that they’ve had constant contact with for the past five years, right? It will be much harder to prove eligibility.
What about tax returns, payroll records?
Unfortunately, many have not been previously paying income taxes. Some have. But many aren’t and, of course, that’s something they will have to start doing now. But it’s just a fact, and I can’t deny it – a great number have never filed a tax return. And with payroll records, we have a lot of people, a lot of moms who haven’t been working or who have been getting paid under the table with cash. Even rental leases. This is a population that may be illegally subletting an apartment or renting a room, so there is no written lease. And medical records. This is not a group that likely went out and got a physical every year.
Aren’t there any lessons to learn from the Reagan-era amnesty program in this regard?
The Department of Homeland Security needs to understand some of the challenges with regards to implementation. It should not require someone to provide a document for every three-month period over the last five years to establish continuous presence. For example, if you had a kid born in a Fairfax hospital five years ago, that should be regarded as enough. This is not a population that crosses back and forth and back and forth. Those days are long over. They ended in the Clinton-era.
There will be a lot of people who can use tax records, medical records, employment records, but there will be a lot of people who will have a tough time establishing eligibility. So, from a Legal Aid perspective, that means these cases are going to take a lot more time than DACA cases.
How are you preparing for that?
It’s a massive undertaking, and we really have to figure out how to staff up. At current staffing levels, there will be no way to handle this. Again, the main question that is still outstanding for me is how rigorous are they going to be in requiring proof of five years of physical presence? How many people can marshal that evidence? And is anyone going to please, please give me money so I can hire enough people to do all this? I don’t know how they can expect legal service providers to handle 5 million applications without providing us financial resources.
I’m hoping we can enter partnerships with community groups and organizations, like schools, for example. If you are undocumented, and you have a five-year-old kid in school, chances are you qualify. Your child is probably a citizen, and you’ve probably been here five years. So, the schools will be places where we will find tons and tons of parents who will qualify, and we’re hoping to reach out to the school systems to see to what extent they can make not only space available, but resources.
What kind of resources?
It will depend on what the different school systems are willing to do. I keep saying, ‘Look, if you want to talk about lifting families out of poverty, give parents work authorization.’ Let them find better jobs. It’s so much better than welfare. It’s such a conservative concept, right? Hand up not a hand out. Let these kids’ parents find a decent-paying, on-the-books job, and you’ll see improvement in educational outcomes. You’ll see reductions in food stamp use and free- or reduced- lunch enrollment because even though the parents don’t qualify for benefits, the kids do.
I just think local jurisdictions should see this as an antipoverty initiative.
It’s a great sentiment, but we are also talking about a group largely made up of people who lack a high school education. Getting work authorization doesn’t mean getting out of poverty.
Yes, but I can’t tell you the number of people who worked skilled trades in their country only do general labor here because they don’t have work authorization. Even just a cleaning job, you work for a legitimate company, and you can make $15 an hour, but off the books, you are making $8. In any field, whatever it is you do, there are decent employers and crappy, small-time employers, and the decent ones require working papers. You get those papers, and there is a better job doing the exact same thing you are doing waiting for you right now.
What kind of questions have you been hearing from people in the community?
Everyone wants to know, ‘Do I qualify? How quickly do I qualify? What is this going to get me?’ It’s a scary thought to send an application form to the Department of Homeland Security with your name and address and saying you crossed the Rio Grande in 2007.
And for a temporary program.
Yes, it is temporary, and the next president can undo it with the stroke of a pen, but you have to look at the way it’s structured. DACA is set up to continue in perpetuity. The next president would have to affirmatively cancel it. He can’t just sit on his hands and let it run out. That’s a very smart political move because it’s much harder to cancel something than to let it lapse.
And if someone tells you they are scared to apply?
First of all, the Department of Homeland Security promised with DACA that it would not use the information provided to go after kids or their parents. I know sometimes a promise isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, but it’s been two years. and I haven’t heard of a case where that has happened. If it existed, we would have heard about it.