This week, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review attacked information sessions set up by non-profit organizations to help undocumented youth navigate President Obama's deferred action plan while avoiding scammers. The Tribune-Review, relying almost entirely on a single article from The Hill, tried to minimize the importance of these sessions by framing the issue as partisan, strictly because some Democrats are participating. However, these sessions are a helpful and necessary tool for undocumented youth and their families to ensure that those eligible are taking advantage of the deferred action properly and avoiding scammers -- all at no cost to taxpayers.
From the Tribune-Review:
"Outreach" programs are being organized to help illegals "navigate applications," understand fees and avoid rip-offs, The Hill newspaper reports. This, after Mr. Obama sidestepped Congress and ordered that "qualified" illegals brought into the U.S. as children could remain here -- temporarily.
But if these are, in fact, talented, achievement-oriented people, then they shouldn't need the Democratic Party's "help" filling out immigration forms.
And how much is this "reach-out" going to reach into taxpayers' pockets?
Despite the Tribune-Review's assertion that the outreach programs are unnecessary because qualified undocumented youth "are, in fact, talented achievement-oriented people," these programs are an essential tool for immigrant communities to receive proper information about their rights under deferred action. Instead of providing information about the sessions, the editorial mocks those eligible, some of whom are potentially still in their early teens.
In Los Angeles, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) has already run about 10 information sessions, attracting around 200 people to each. In an interview with Media Matters, Jorge-Mario Cabrera, Director of Communications for CHIRLA, explained that these free general information sessions are for undocumented youth, their parents, or anyone who is interested in finding out more information about the deferred action program.
Not only do these programs guide potential applicants through the various forms and documents required by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but they also ensure they can get reliable information without going to fake "notarios" who seek to take advantage of undocumented immigrants for money. These fake notarios pretend to work as lawyers and immigration advocates but instead are running "sham operations." In fact, the prevalence of notarios in America has led the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Trade Commission to begin a major crackdown of these fraudsters.
Mr. Cabrera explained that not every "notario" (or attorney) is fraudulent, but before investing money in a notario or attorney, his organization is giving people the opportunity to talk to a community based organization for free and then make a decision that works best for each potential applicant. He also explained that if undocumented youth do choose to speak with an attorney, his organization has compiled a list of 15-20 attorneys who will charge very little for a consultation. In addition, CHIRLA wants people to come to the sessions to ensure applicants get it right the first time and don't forget an essential document or form.
These types of information sessions aren't unprecedented. Mr. Cabrera compared his organization's sessions to those run by nonpartisan, non-profit organizations for senior citizens. He explained that those organizations run yearly information sessions to explain changes in Medicare and aid seniors in making the right decision when choosing insurance companies. His sessions serve the same purpose -- strictly to aid and assist undocumented youth in making the right decisions. Mr. Cabrera also stressed that these sessions are non-political, explaining that, "giving young people an opportunity to contribute is good for everybody, for all Americans."
As for the cost to taxpayers, Mr. Cabrera explained that while his group's sessions are free, to actually apply for deferred action, USCIS will charge a fee. The paperwork fee charged by USCIS will be $465 per applicant. Although initial costs for the government will be between $467 million and $585 million for the first two years, the Los Angeles Times reported that some advocates believe that the government could generate more than $800 million in fees, which will pay for the program in its entirety. Cabrera explained that these fees are not just for undocumented youth using the program, but in fact, USCIS is a fee-for-service department, and applicants for citizenship, permanent residents and those seeking temporary protected status all pay some type of fee to cover the cost of their processing.