How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Los Angeles Mayor's Office offers help to defer deportation for young immigrants

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Los Angeles City Hall was unusually busy for a Saturday, hosting more than 150 immigrants looking to get reprieves from deportation.

The Mayor's Office opened up council chambers and the rotunda so volunteers could provide legal assistance to those eligible for the federal Deferred Action program.

Antonio Breton, 26, of Los Angeles is among those who may qualify for a two-year deportation deferral as an immigrant brought here illegally as a child.

Breton, who arrived in the United States as a 13-year-old, was confident that his application would be accepted and that he could finally seek a work permit and driver’s license.

"It's going to pay off," said Breton, a father of two. "It will help to probably make more money and get a better job."

President Barack Obama created the program more than a year ago by executive action, but the rate of  submissions have dropped in recent months.  An estimated 300,000-plus Californians are eligible for the program, but as of August, just a little over half had submitted applications. 

"It's very important for us to get the word out while this program exists to make sure we have 100 percent participation,"  said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was on hand at City Hall to welcome applicants.

Breton said it's been an obstacle to obtain all the necessary paperwork for the application, which  includes proving you were under the age of 31 as of June 2012, and that you've been living in the U.S. continuously for five years.

"Trying to get the evidence — the paperwork from high school transcripts, college transcripts — is kind of difficult," Breton said. "Of course, the money is also an obstacle."

Breton said he's worked extra hours in construction to scrape together the $465 for the application fee.

To help families struggling to pay the fee — particularly households with multiple people seeking deferred action — some organizations are offering special loans.

Representatives from Pacoima Development Federal Credit Union, for example, were at the City Hall event, promoting a six-month "deferred action" loan with an interest amount of roughly $16 over the life of the loan. Loan analyst Louie Velazquez said the goal is let immigrants get started on their applications, as opposed to waiting to acquire the money needed to apply. 

More than 150 volunteers showed up from local high schools and 15 different nonprofit organizations, including Catholic Charities and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. Many wore bright blue Garcetti T-shirts.

The workshop is the latest example of a major city extending assistance to immigrants, even as a proposed federal immigration overhaul remains stalled in Congress.

Garcetti, who held a similar workshop last year when he was a city councilman, said that setting immigrants on a path to legal residency is "common sense."

"This is about making sure I collect all the taxes I can, that my students can get as many scholarships as they can, and people can start as many businesses as they can," Garcetti said.

New York City officials have committed $18 million to promoting deferred action. L.A. does not currently have that kind of a budget for such an effort, said Linda Lopez, head of the mayor's newly-formed Office of Immigrant Affairs.

"We're very hopeful and very optimistic that we will get some needed resources that DACA-eligible applicants do apply," Lopez said.  She said Saturday's workshop cost about $3,000 to hold.

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