LA County vows support for immigrants

Supervisors will create a task force to help deferred action applicants even as Obama’s relief programs are halted.

Supervisor Hilda Solis announces the creation of task force to help immigrants applying for deferred action. | D. Solomon

Supervisor Hilda Solis announces the creation of task force to help immigrants applying for deferred action. | D. Solomon

Los Angeles County officials voted Tuesday to put resources in place to help immigrants apply for deportation relief, despite a federal judge’s ruling last week to halt an expansion of the Obama administration’s deferred action programs.

The Board of Supervisors decided in a 4-1 vote to create a task force that would ensure support for the nearly 500,000 county residents who qualify for work permits and legal residency under two new federal programs.

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who proposed the task force along with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, said county agencies need to prepare for the likelihood that the federal court ban is reversed.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas issued a temporary court order on Feb. 16 to block two immigration initiatives: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA, and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, called DACA. Both would grant work permits and legal residency.

“The county has a role and responsibility to impact the 466,000 potential recipients in these two programs,” said Solis, speaking to reporters after the vote outside the Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles. “We are not going to turn our heads away and move along, we are going to walk together.”

Her statement prompted a crowd of supporters to cheer: “Si se puede“yes we can.”

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich was the sole dissenter, calling the task force “premature.”

“We have to see what the final decision is in the appellate process,” he said.

Implemented in 2012, DACA is designed to help immigrants who came to the United States as children. It originally gave an age limit, but a new version would open the program to those who came to the U.S. before turning 16 years old and have lived here since 2010.

DAPA, slated to begin accepting applications in May, aims to assist the immigrant parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who have lived in the country for at least five years.

Across the nation, roughly 11 million people have immigrated illegally. Up to five million are eligible for deferred action.

Obama’s administration has asked Hanen to put a hold on the injunction, pending an appeal. A timeline for reinstating the president’s programs is uncertain, but Kuehl said in the Supervisor’s meeting that L.A. County needs to be ready.

“We will be waiting for this to play out, but we will not wait to prepare,” she said.

Kuehl and Solis intend for the Deferred Action Task Force to ensure county agencies such as the Registrar-Recorder provide resources to help immigrants prepare applications, which can require documents such as birth and marriage records.

The supervisors also aim for the task force to connect with community organizations that directly reach the public. The program would also team with the Department of Consumer Protection to prosecute fraudulent services and application scams.

If the 466,000 potential applicants are approved in Los Angeles County, they could give an economic stimulus to the region, according to Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda from UCLA’s North American Integration and Development Center.

He estimates that granting work permits to this crop of immigrants could boost county tax revenues by $1.13 billion and generate $1.6 billion in new wages with more than 38,000 new jobs.

Leticia Velez wants to help fellow immigrants learn the benefits of DACA and DAPA. | D. Solomon

Leticia Velez wants to help fellow immigrants learn the benefits of DACA and DAPA. | D. Solomon

A couple of hundred people turned out at the meeting to endorse the proposal, waving signs printed with an American flag and the words: “We contribute.”

Nearly 30 supporters stepped up to the supervisors’ desks to commend the proposal, representing Latino, Asian and South Asian immigrant rights groups. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce also voiced its support.

Despite the strong showing, activist Leticia Velez, 20, said many immigrants do not understand deferred action, or how to apply.

“If you ask them, ‘Do you know the difference between DAPA and DACA?’ … They say, “Oh, I’ve heard of it,” said Velez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 9 years old.

She hopes the task force can create more awareness, adding: “You’re not just going to go in blindly and hope for the best.”

Attorney Katherine Brady of the Immigrant Legal Resources Center said immigrants face numerous challenges in applying for deferred action, such as collecting proper documents and affording the $500 fee. Even as relief programs hang in limbo, the organization welcomes help from local government.

“It would be terrible to have this opening and have people not prepared,” said Brady.

Like Intersections on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and sign up for the Newsletter to stay in the loop on news and views from South L.A. Email the author at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dainabethcita.

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