Legal service providers who handle immigration cases for little or no cost are bracing themselves for the workload if President Obama takes action to curb deportations.
An announcement from the White House on immigration is expected as early as this week. It's still not clear just who would benefit from a legalization plan: The Pew Research Center has calculated that if protection is extended to the parents of U.S.-born children who have lived in the country for 10 years or more, for example, some 2.8 million adults could be eligible. If the plan extends to children under 18 who are in the U.S. illegally, eligible minors could number as many as 650,000.
In any case, local pro-bono and low-cost legal providers are preparing themselves for what could turn into a rush of applicants.
“I suspect we’re actually probably going to receive a lot more calls than we did with DACA," said Anthony Roh of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
That 2012 program provides two renewable years’ worth of protection from deportation for people under 30 who arrived in the U.S. before age 16. It’s anticipated that if Obama extends protection to a bigger group of immigrants, one possibility could be raising the age cap.
This translates into a larger crowd of applicants, says Roh, whose organization has processed more than 2,000 DACA applicants since 2012 without cost.
The anticipated workload could strain the relatively few local agencies that provide free and low-cost legal help, who are already overworked as they handle the cases of recently arrived child migrants.
The Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles is one of them; along with a few others, CARECEN has received federal grant money to help process unaccompanied minors' cases. The agency’s Tessie Borden says there are plans in place in the event that their workload explodes. She says that they also had a plan in place when Congress was poised to pass immigration reform last year.
“We have talked about the possibility of administrative relief, and we’ve talked about the possibility of opening satellite offices and stuff like that," Borden says. "But we also know that things can stay in the rumor stage, and not become reality.”
Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigration Reform of Los Angeles says that as he understands it, agencies would have six months' notice before people can begin to apply, if a new legalization plan is announced, He says this would at least give providers more time to prepare than they were given with DACA, which kicked off three months after it was announced.