September 23, 2012
Helping ‘Catholic Dreamers’ navigate new waters
Eric Avila and Gustavo Sanchez look over instructions on what they will need to apply. Youth and some parents met at St. James Parish in Highwood, Ill, to gather information on the DREAM Act as part of a series of workshops held around the Archdiocese of Chicago on Aug. 17. They learned how to qualify, fill out applications forms, and how to seek legal assistance during the session. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Roberto Santos takes notes during the workshop. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Presenters Junior Lara and Rosa Luna write information on the board during the workshop for particpants. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Marilu Gonzalez, immigration education coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for Immigrant Affairs and Immigrant Education, answers questions proposed by participants during the workshop. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Antonio Avila asks a question about age requirements during the workshop.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Presenters Junior Lara and Rosa Luna talk about requirements for applicants during the workshop.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Eric Avila and Gustavo Sanchez look over instructions on what they will need to apply.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Marilu Gonzalez, immigration education coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for Immigrant Affairs and Immigrant Education, answers questions proposed by participants during the workshop.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Antonio Avila asks a question about age requirements while Roberto Santos listens during the workshop.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
On Aug. 15, young undocumented immigrants began applying for deferred action status, which will allow them to remain in the United States without fear of deportation for the next two years. More than 11,000 lined up at Navy Pier that day, seeking help from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights seeking help in putting together their applications.
The Office for Immigrant Affairs and Education of the Archdiocese of Chicago has been hard at work with those who call themselves “Catholic Dreamers” — which is a version of the Dreamer movement, young immigrants who wait in hope for the passage of the DREAM Act — to inform those eligible about the application process.
Young people who entered the country before age 16 and are no older than 30 may be eligible, if they meet certain criteria. The two-year period is subject to an extension and will not confer a legal status. But those who have been in trouble with the law may not be eligible, and some worry what could happen if they provide their information to the government and a new administration overturns the program.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement estimates that the plan could benefit 1.2 million immigrants currently residing in the country and unable to pursue a career or work given their immigration status.
In a statement released upon the announcement of the deferred action program, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said in a statement: “This important action will provide protection from removal and work authorization for a vulnerable group of immigrants who deserve to remain in our country and contribute their talents to our communities.”
The statement went on to say, “These youth are bright, energetic and eager to pursue their education and reach their full potential. They did not enter our nation on their own volition, but rather came to the United States with their parents as children, something all of us would do.”
The archdiocese’s Office of Immigrant Affairs is helping these young people navigate the often-complicated process of applying for the program.
“What we want is to ensure that these young men and women don’t become victims of fraud,” said Marilu Gonzalez, education coordinator for the office.
Some people seeking to take advantage of young immigrants have promised to process their applications at a cost of up to $6,000, saying that they will be included on a “preferred list” and their applications will be processed more quickly. No such arrangements exist.
For this reason, from June through August officials from the office, with the assistance of the Catholic Dreamers, visited 12 parishes in all six vicariates to inform these young immigrants and their parents about the facts of the deferred action and the eligibility requirements.
In all, 1,720 people attended these sessions. The hall at St. Agnes of Bohemia in Little Village was packed for a July 31 session. At the session, Gonzalez recommended that those eligible begin putting together documents that could prove their physical presence in the country as well as to translate those papers if necessary. However, her mantra throughout the evening was “don’t feel pressured.”
Pastoral organizer William Becerra agreed.
“The biggest anxiety that I have found is the pressure to hurry up and get these documents together,” he said. “What we’ve been saying in these information sessions is to get them done correctly. We want them to understand the requirements. If they have doubts, it's best to wait before submitting their applications."
The next step will be to offer legal services to these young immigrants. There are talks of collaboration with Catholic Charities to provide support and resources to key locations throughout the archdiocese.
The anxiety of participating in a process that implies coming out of the shadows and providing sensitive information to a government agency has awakened serious doubts within the Hispanic community, mainly because of the uncertainty of this measure, whose future depends upon the political climate.
"These are well founded fears," Becerra said. "The immigration office stresses on their website that this information will not be shared with any other government agency."
However, if a person is being investigated by the immigration office, that information will be shared, which is why a young person must be sure they want to go through the process.
Uncertainty is a common sentiment among these young immigrants.
"For me, being undocumented has been part of my life here in this country since I was 13 years old," wrote a student who asked not to be identified by name. She shared a written testimonial, in which she said: "I learned to live with a little bit of uncertainty, vulnerability and to rise above it in spite of these obstacles."
Victor Hugo Camarena, 29, is a parishioner at St. John Bosco, 2250 N. McVicker Ave. He was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and came to the United States after he turned 16, so he is not eligible for deferred action. "But that doesn't stop me from fighting to help the rest," he said, "those that are eligible."
Camarena collaborates with the Catholic Dreamers by creating videos and helping spread information.
"I have faith in that the future will offer something for me," he said.
In general terms, the present deferred action has been seen as a step in the right direction.
"Although this does not provide a permanent solution to the problem, it does create an opportunity for these young adults to be able to integrate themselves into the labor force," Becerra said. "This is something they've been waiting for a long time and there's a bit of anxiety."
During the St. Agnes of Bohemia information session, Gonzalez called the measure "a band aid" in an attempt to fix what many consider a broken immigration system.