Free legal assistance offers help with DACA

By Francisco Portillo 

Undocumented students at East Los Angeles College have the opportunity to receive free legal assistance from attorneys by applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in E1-227.

A partnership between the Dream Resource Center and the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic (LIJC), students can meet with an attorney that specializes in immigrant justice for free.

DACA, created by President Obama in 2012, offers temporary deportation relief for two years. This allows undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States in accordance with the law and to be able to apply for employment.

Applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, or have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 to be eligible. Applicants must currently be enrolled in school, completed high school or be a veteran of the armed forces. Applicants must also not be a convicted felon or perceived to be a threat to national security.

When approved, individuals will be eligible  for a I-766 Employment Authorization Card for work purposes only.

While beneficial to many undocumented individuals, the program still presents challenges. The ability to remain in the U.S. is financially challenging as the total cost of the application is $465.

To  receive assistance in paying the application fees, the applicant’s must earn an income less than 150 percent of the U.S. poverty level, are under 18 years old, homeless, have a chronic disability, be in foster care or have accumulated $10,000 or more in debt from medical expenses.

On top of the financial challenge, the process can be confusing for individuals who have no experience with legal forms. Therefore, the applicants are usually in need of legal aid from attorneys which can be expensive.

ELAC student Oscar Rodriguez was among one of the students to take advantage of the opportunity.

During the meeting with  an attorney, Rodriguez was asked a series of questions to establish his eligibility for other services such as Advanced Parole.

The service acts as a travel permit and allows students to travel outside of the country for work, educational and humanitarian purposes. It will allow those who qualify to return to the country with no hassle from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“With the DACA, I didn’t know that I could study abroad. I was really happy about the information I received in order to expand my rights. The attorneys were relatable,” Rodriguez said.

The response for students has been positive. On the first day that the services were made available the spots for appointments were full.

Marissa Montes is one of the attorneys  assisting students and relates to undocumented students as she was once in the same position.

“One of the biggest issues (with applying for DACA), is evidence requirement. Part of applying for DACA, is that you have to prove that you’ve been in the U.S. continuously from 2007 until now; nine years of documentation,” said Montes.

For more information that is specific to undocumented students visit the Dream Resource Center in E1-227. Students can also obtain more information on financial, academic and legal resources that are in the community.   

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