José Cárdenas: This month marked the second anniversary of DACA, Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals. This is a program President Obama created for young immigrants who come to the United States illegally when they were children. With me to talk about what has happened with the program is Mitzi Castro, field organizer for the No Dream Deferred Campaign. And Delia Salvatierra, an attorney with the Salvatierra Law Group, she is also the past chair for the immigration section of the State Bar of Arizona and a board member for Los Abogados. Thank you both for joining us on “Horizonte.” Delia you were on here, you've been on the show several times, but we talked about DACA when it first came about. Remind everybody what the criteria are to be registered under DACA.
Delia Salvatierra: A DACA recipient has to have graduated from high school or obtained a G.E.D. or currently enrolled in high school or a G.E.D. No significant criminal history, no felonies, have entered the United States prior to their 16th birthday and be able to prove that lawful entry –- that entry into the United States. And those are the main three ingredients for a successful DACA application.
José Cárdenas: And I didn’t catch –- The age is 15, right?
Delia Savatierra: That they entered under the age of 16 and that they have been physically and continuously present without significant departures from the United States since June 15 of 2007.
José Cárdenas: And is there an age cap?
Delia Salvatierra: Thirty at the time DACA was announced, which was June 15, 2012.
José Cárdenas: So Mitzi, your group has been working with the people who are eligible for DACA status. Tell us about the organization: when it started and what you've been doing.
Mitzi Castro: The organization was actually established with Delia Salvatierra as well as other attorneys. And they worked together to come up with this magic formula to verify that applicants do in fact meet the criteria. It's actually been around for two years, and the program has been picked up by several organizations, like Somos America. Unfortunately, their funding wasn't able to continue. Then Own the Dream came on, and we've been able to help them since. So we've had, I believe, one drive at least every month since June of last year.
José Cárdenas: And what your doing is you’re going out and telling people, this is the program, this is how you can register for it. And now, you're reminding them that they have to reregister if they were among the original group because their registration is about to expire. Is that right?
Mitzi Castro: Yes, I believe it was either a week or a week and a half ago the DACA renewal information was released. And yes, those that were accepted within the first couple of months, so starting in October or September and even some of them in August, that were accepted, they have anywhere between 150 to 120 days to submit their renewal applications.
José Cárdenas: So, Delia, before we talk about the renewal process, your assessment of how successful the program has been in Arizona.
Delia Salvatierra: It's been hugely successful. To the extent it has given Arizona youth an opportunity to work, come out of shadows. It's given them an opportunity to obtain a Social Security number, seek educational opportunities through Maricopa County Community Colleges. Unfortunately, they can't drive because the state of Arizona refuses to issue young adults on DACA with driver's licenses. But I think it's given them a sense of empowerment, a sense of belonging that they didn't have before.
José Cárdenas: Any sense for how many people have obtained DACA status in Arizona?
Delia Salvatierra: I want to say it's over half a million. I think USCIS --
José Cárdenas: Half a million in Arizona?
Delia Salvatierra: Yes, absolutely. I think the highest numbers are in California, Florida and Arizona.
José Cárdenas: So nationwide what would the numbers be?
Delia Salvatierra: I think it's nearly a million and a half, two.
José Cárdenas: Nationwide?
Delia Salvatierra: Nationwide.
José Cárdenas: But half a million of them are in Arizona?
Delia Salvatierra: About 400,000 in Arizona.
José Cárdenas: Eligible or who have actually obtained DACA status?
Delia Salvatierra: Obtained DACA status.
José Cárdenas: And so many of them now are facing the need to renew. Any concerns about that?
Delia Salvatierra: What I'd like to see that they are not so busy in their own lives and that they follow through on this administrative process, because they really have 120 to 150 days to apply for DACA, so that there is no interruption in their status. And their status is evidenced by a work authorization document. And so, if they don't have it, they will be laid off and employers will have to be forced to let them go until they renew their status. I think that’s the greatest concern --
José Cárdenas: The 150-day period we’re talking about, that's roughly that time period before their two years expires?
Delia Salvatierra: Correct.
José Cárdenas: Relatively simple process?
Delia Salvatierra: Relatively. The Obama administration and USCIs has made the process for renewal extremely easy and straightforward. The initial application process is paper intensive, document intensive but not the renewal process. It is straightforward. It is $465. The fee has not increased since the initial announcement of DACA.
José Cárdenas: So the renewal costs the same as the original application.
Delia Salvatierra: Yes.
José Cárdenas: And Mitzi, what is your group doing to help people, to get out the word that they need to do this?
Mitzi Castro: More than anything we are focusing on social media. We understand people are glued to their phones 24/7. So, we work during the peak hours, you know, between -- before the nine to five starts and during lunch we know people are looking at their phone then. Aside from social media, we do what we did with the initial round of the campaign, which is visiting organizations and other businesses that have been really active in supporting the work of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. We have done a lot of media just in general, being on TV and on the radio, and it's really helped. We always get, ‘Oh, we heard you heard you on Radio Campesina.
We heard but here or there.’ So it's been really successful.
José Cárdenas: And about how many people do you have coming through your offices to get reregistered or actually most of the time thus far would have been the initial registration?
Mitzi Castro: Based on the numbers we have from the last forum, which was last Saturday, we either informed or assisted at least 180 people. We are hoping to have the same amount of numbers, probably half of that every Thursday when we have our information forum.
José Cárdenas: For a lot of people, $465 is a lot of money. Has that been a real deterrent?
Mitzi Castro: Yes, it definitely has. We’ve actually worked on, as a part of our campaign, different ways to help people fundraise for that. Whether it be a car wash or the money pot we work with closely, eMoneyPool, which is an online version of that and individuals are able to obtain that and eventually build their credit once they have the deferred action. That's one really cool way for them to obtain the $465.
José Cárdenas: So Delia, you indicated that some of the benefits of DACA haven't been realized because the kids -- they’re not all kids -- the people who get that status and the employment authorization document can't get to work. And so, they may not be able to get to jobs because they can't drive. Any concern that may discourage people from renewing their DACA status because it hasn't done that much good?
Delia Salvatierra: I think so. But I think that it was a deterrent when DACA was announced. And Governor Brewer immediately announced that it would not authorize driver's licenses to DACA recipients. I think it was a deterrent then, and it will be a deterrent now. I think those who have DACA must focus on what DACA means. It means authorized presence by the federal government. And federal law trumps state law with immigration matters. And the opportunity to work and the opportunity to seek an education is paramount to a driver's license.
José Cárdenas: Now, with the political earthquake that occurred last week with Eric Cantor being defeated in the primary, a lot of people are saying immigration reform isn't going to happen this year. There was some doubt as to whether it would anyway, but there was some hope. Do you think that will have any effect one way or the other on people renewing?
Delia Salvatierra: No. I think DACA is a very special and unique program authorized under executive power. And I think that folks are not banking on Congress to pass immigration reform in order for them to continue their status. I think the Obama administration and DHS have done an excellent job to keep this program alive. I don't think it'll go away. I think it can only be expanded. I think it would be foolish by any future administration to take it away. Whether it means, you know, that comprehensive immigration reform is not going happen, I agree, I don't think it'll happen this year.
José Cárdenas: So Mitzi, what about your organization? Have you seen any impact from the debate of whether there's going to be immigration reform or not, does that affect the number of people you see coming forward to register for DACA?
Mitzi Castro: We’ve noticed several individuals coming up to us and asking us about this. I think it's more or less the parents. If anything, it's helped us to increase our numbers with the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and the campaign. I think people are more alert and just looking to see what it is they can do, and how they can get involved really to make a difference in passing immigration reform if it were to happen, or just in general being in the know.
José Cárdenas: So by way of summary, based upon everything you said, DACA pretty much a success?
Delia Salvatierra: A great success.
José Cárdenas: And hopefully people will be renewing, and continue to get the benefits.
Delia Salvatierra: Timely.
José Cárdenas: Well, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about this. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully, it won’t be necessary in two years, but we may be talking about his again. Thank you so much. That's our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte" and Eight, I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good night.