Carmen cleans Miami houses for $200 a week. So she turned up as early as she could Saturday at Miami Dade College to ask for the $465 grant that would pay for the application to legalize her undocumented daughter’s immigration status.
“This is a blessing,” the Peru-born Carmen said as she waited nervously, green application folder in hand, to chat with one of the immigration rights activists manning desks around the MDC classroom.
A coalition of activist groups hosting the session Saturday was taking the first applications from low-income migrants for the $465 grants – the cost of applying for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for undocumented youths.
The volunteers were also, as they have been doing at 14 to 15 clinics since August, providing legal advice to youths and parents dealing with a sometimes confusing process of filing the DACA applications to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“We work hard so they can have a future,” said Sandra Leyes, an Argentine who arrived in 2000 on a tourist visa with her then 3-year-old son. Gian is now a high school freshman with hopes of becoming a doctor with a specialty in sports medicine.
Leyes said she and Gian were at the clinic to make sure his application was correct and avoid having to pay an immigration lawyer for counsel, but they did not need the $465.
But Carmen said she definitely needs the money because her income barely covers costs. Her daughter Marianne is a senior in high school – top 10 percent of her class – and wants to be an architect.
Colombia-born dishwasher José said it would take his family months to save up the money for his son’s DACA application — if no one gets sick because they have no health insurance. Like others at the sessions, he asked that his last name not be published for fear of repercussions.
Immigrant rights activist Gaby Pacheco said the coalition sponsoring the clinics is hoping to provide the $465 grants to least 50 low-income youths. The groups already have received a $10,000 gift from the Fragomen law firm in Coral Gables.
Most of the DACA applicants seen at the South Florida clinics have been from Latin America, but one came from South Africa and another said he was a Roma – a gypsy – whose father might have been born in Bulgaria.
Youths at the clinic Saturday seemed to prefer to speak in English, jelled their hair in the latest style, wore tight jeans and hoodies and played with smart phones and portable game consoles. Their parents preferred to speak Spanish.
Manning the DACA information and application desks during Saturday’s session at the MDC InterAmerican campus on 27th Avenue and Southwest Eighth Street were law students from Florida International University, the University of Miami and St. Thomas University.
An immigration attorney reviewed the completed DACA applications, and then sent the youths and families to the Ecuador-born Pacheco if they wanted to apply for the $465 grants.
The volunteers have seen about 30 potential applicants at each of the clinics for undocumented youths held all around South Florida since August and completed applications with about 75 percent of them, Pacheco added.
The volunteers also are taking a survey in the hopes of explaining why the number of undocumented youths applying for DACA is far below the estimates of how many would apply.
Estimates of the number of undocumented youths in Florida alone range from 85,000 to 160,000. But the latest U.S. government report showed 19,336 individuals have requested DACA in the state.
Jose Machado, a leader of the group Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), has said his own study showed the top reason for the gap is the $465 cost of the application to DHS.
Some fears of deportations may also linger, said Juan Carlos Gomez, head of the Carlos A. Costa Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the FIU law school. And perhaps some have been waiting for the politics of immigration reform to settle down.
Republican presidential candidates promised tough anti-immigration policies if elected, Gomez noted. And now Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been talking about different immigration reforms.
Among the groups sponsoring the clinic and grant projects are SWER, Gomez’ clinic at FIU, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, and DREAMERs’ Moms. Their next clinic will be from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. on March 2 at the FIU law school, 11200 S.W. Eighth St.