For FIU law student Ashley Gruber, 26, the experience was a bit overwhelming and put law school into perspective. As a third-year law school student, she has had the opportunity to deal with immigration cases at Krome Detention Center, but this was different, because you are dealing with teenagers.
Some teens were there alone. The law school student volunteers explained the requirements and the risks of submitting fraudulent documentation.
This is a great service. Immigration attorneys in South Florida are charging from $500 to $3,000, Pedro Hernandez, 55, said while sitting in his blue truck. He dropped off his daughter in the parking lot, because he was afraid that the law is the law. She was teary eyed.
Inside, activists and volunteers, who have been setting up these clinics in Florida City, Little Havana, Pembroke Pines and West Miami-Dade, were waiting for her. She had made an appointment.
United We Dream (UWD) policy director Gabriela Pacheco, 27, an undocumented migrant who moved to Miami from Ecuador when she was 7, was checking that applicants were being helped. She publicly disclosed her status in 2006, and during a 2010 protest, she and a group walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, D.C.
Students Working For Equal Rights (SWER) volunteer José Machado, 17, an undocumented student at Miami Senior High in Little Havana, was sharing his story with applicants who were waiting in an auditorium. He moved with his mom and his twin brother to Miami from Nicaragua when he was 6.
I was 16, I was sleeping, waiting for my mom, but she never came home. She was arrested for driving without a license. I wasnt allowed to see her and Im now in foster care, Machado said. His brother is living with an aunt in Miami.I have learned a lot about my rights. I want to do everything I can so that other families are not separated like mine was. He wants to study political science.
This program has energized young people like Gomez, who are joining groups supporting immigration reform on Facebook, communicating with other #dreamers on Twitter and posting pictures of their new #DACA work permits and legal clinics on Instagram.
FIU law professor Juan Carlos Gómez, who is not related to Julian Gomez, has been helping low-income undocumented migrants for about two decades.
You hear all of these incredible stories of young people who have been brought to the United States and have such hope to contribute so much, Gómez said. They want to run businesses. They want to be accountants. They are paying for college out of their own pockets. These are incredible human beings, who will only make us a richer nation.
FIU law students, attorney volunteers and activists under his supervision have processed about 500 applications. They hope to process at least 25,000. There are an estimated 100,000 potential applicants in Florida.
Gómez said there is an urgency to help as many people as possible to prevent potential applicants from falling prey to opportunistic fraudsters. But he needs help. He said he would like to borrow a copy machine for when they go on the road. He needs more attorney volunteers, and has a list of people, like the single mom of an autistic boy, who cant afford the $465 fee the government requires for the application.
Carlos, who did not want to disclose his last name and is an honors student at Miami-Dade College, said people treat you like dirt when they know that you are undocumented. He said he mowed lawns, helped a friend clean offices, washed cars and sold t-shirts online to come up with the money.
There are very few waivers for the fee, so Gómez is hoping to connect sponsors to applicants.
One of the most fascinating things is when you are able to make a difference, Gómez said in tears. That work permit frees the person up, because people are no longer able to exploit them easily, because its a fair game. And that is what the U.S. is about.