What does it mean to you to be a citizen of the United States? For many of you, it might mean upholding your civic duty and voting today, November 8, election day. For many Americans, citizenship is something we might take for granted. Being a citizen is as natural and innocuous as having air to breathe. We don’t think about it, it doesn’t affect our day, it doesn’t bring about any anxiety. It is simply reality.
Many South Coast residents face significant challenges to gaining citizenship. Until there is comprehensive immigration reform enacted by the federal government, the vast majority will remain somewhat in the shadows, unfortunately. But for those who are able to establish legal permanent residency (LPR) one way or another, that final step to become a citizen is actually the easy part. After filling out a few forms, the applicant needs to study for and pass a civics test (which we challenge everyone to try!) and get through an interview.
Naturalizing from an LPR to a citizen is one of the immigration legal services we are happy to offer at Puente. So far in 2016, we have submitted 15 applications for citizenship for members of our community.
“The presidential election has been a major motivating factor for many LPRs to finally make the leap,” says Ben Ranz, Community Outreach Coordinator at Puente. “In many of the cases, applicants have been LPRs for 20 or 30 years and now feel that the time has come.”
Recognizing that comprehensive immigration reform has a long and challenging road in front of it, President Obama issued an executive order in 2012 creating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This allowed some young people who were brought to this country as children to get protection from deportation. It is not a path to citizenship, but DACA recipients can legally obtain a work permit and driver’s license.
Puente proudly shepherded 20 Pescadero youth through the initial DACA application process and continues to support those youth in renewing their DACA. Since DACA only addresses young people, in 2014 President Obama took action again and created Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA. This policy would grant the same deferred action to parents of children who are citizens, with the goal of family unity in mind. Nationwide, DAPA could impact up to 5 million immigrants in America. In the same fell swoop, the President announced the expansion of the DACA program to be even more inclusive.
With the announcement of DAPA, Puente sprang into action. We determined that around 180 parents in our community could benefit from DAPA, quite a far cry from the 20 DACA recipients back in 2012. A year ago, executive director, Rita Mancera, was the only person at Puente accredited by the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA accreditation allows for those representatives to process DACA and DAPA applications on their own, instead of needing to be signed off by an attorney.
Recognizing the need for more immigration support, a team of three individuals–Ben Ranz, Fund Development Associate Alejandra Ortega, and long-time volunteer and former board member Liz Chapman, went through the arduous process of becoming BIA accredited. Puente now has a team of four BIA accredited people to deliver the right amount of support we anticipate the community will need.
Political road blocks are currently preventing DAPA from becoming law, so we will have to wait with our fingers crossed that the government passes these laws. Much of that hinges on today’s election, so if you are privileged enough to be able to participate in our electoral process, please do so. Those who are unable to go down that road are depending on all of us to do what we can, because we can.