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Millions could benefit from immigration executive action

The executive policy changes on immigration announced by President Obama in late November could signal relief starting in the spring for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Locally, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans has been monitoring the president’s executive action (and the recent lawsuit filed by 17 states, including Louisiana, to stop it) to determine how best to help people and handle a possible application influx due to the action.

“We welcome this move by the president,” said Martin Gutierrez, division director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans. “This administrative relief will assist the nearly five million undocumented immigrants looking for a legal path to building a life for themselves in the U.S. But much work still needs to be done toward comprehensive immigration reform.”

A flurry of changes
Some of the basic changes resulting from the executive action include creating a Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program to allow deferral of deportation for three years for parents of children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who meet certain criteria. The executive action also expands the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to allow deferral of deportation for three years for noncitizens who arrived in the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2010 and before the age of 16, said Julie Y. Ward, director of Immigration and Refugee Services and ESL programs for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Ward mentioned other key changes: revising overall enforcement priorities for deportation to focus on those considered a threat to national security and public safety, as well as recent border crossers; and replacing the “Secure Communities” program with a “Priority Enforcement” program to focus enforcement and deportation priorities on those with criminal convictions.

The people most likely to benefit from the executive action – when it is available – are the parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents as of Nov. 20, 2014, Ward said.

Everyday services

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans is fully accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice to offer free or low-cost legal representation on a range of immigration humanitarian relief services. Those services include U-visas for victims of crime; VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) applications for survivors of domestic violence; naturalization applications and preparation classes for citizenship; family petitions for permanent residency; temporary forms of relief (temporary protected status); fiancée petitions;  travel documents/advance parole renewals; work permit renewals; affidavits of support and more, Ward said.

She said the most requested services from undocumented immigrants are family petitions for legal residency, naturalization applications for citizenship, U-visas and VAWA applications.

Currently, there is a backlog for assistance just on these basic services, with appointments being made through January.

Ward cautions undocumented individuals seeking fast, low-cost legal assistance to consult only licensed and accredited social service agencies such as Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, legal professionals or official government agencies who provide “free or low-cost immigration legal services.”

Need comprehensive reform
Gutierrez and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops support the actions of President Obama. But Gutierrez considers the executive action only a partial cure, a “Band-Aid” to the larger problems surrounding immigration. The stopgap measure does not give anyone legal residency or citizenship, he said.

“What we are encouraging is for both the Congress and president to come together to find a permanent solution to the problem, which is comprehensive immigration reform that focuses on respecting the dignity of the individual and the preservation of the family,” Gutierrez said.

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans Immigration and Refugee Services can be reached at 457-3462. The government website detailing eligibility and when applications can be filed is grationaction.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Changes in immigration policies if executive action takes effect:*
Expands Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for noncitizens who had arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday and before Jan. 1, 2010, and it removes the upper age limit and extends the period of DACA and work authorization from two to three years. Applications for this relief will be accepted on or around Feb. 20, 2015.
➤ Creates a new program called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) that grants relief from deportation for three years and grants employment authorization. Those qualifying include people with children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents born on or before Nov. 20, 2014; those who have lived in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2010; those in the U.S. on Nov. 20, 2014, at the time of making a DAPA request and who can pass a background check. The government will accept applications for DAPA relief on or around May 20, 2015.
➤ Expands the use of provisional waivers of unlawful presence.
➤ Modernizes, improves and clarifies immigrant and nonimmigrant programs to grow the economy and
    create jobs.
➤ Promotes citizen education and public awareness for lawful permanent residents and an option for naturalization applicants to use credit cards to pay the application fee.

* Obtained from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

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