By Cristina Jimenez
This past Saturday, August 25th, DREAMers at over 40 sites across America attended "Own the Dream" clinic and forum events. These clinics and forums helped undocumented Americans apply for "deferred action" and work permits under the new policy implemented by the Department of Homeland Security, and announced by President Obama this past June 15th.
[caption id="attachment_19967" align="alignleft" width="300"] DREAMers meet with volunteers as they apply for deferred action in Los Angeles, one of many such clinics held across the country. (Photo: Dream Team Los Angeles)[/caption]
Under the policy popularly known as "deferred action" for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, potentially 1.7 million immigrant youth who meet the requirements can apply for work permits and protection from deportation. Beginning last month with a national campaign kick-off, and continuing on August 15th, when aspiring citizens across the nation began their applications for deferred action, the United We Dream Network, along with our partners, have been tirelessly working to ensure that as many youth as possible have the opportunity to benefit from this historic moment.
In New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, people were lined up, documents in hand, long before the clinics opened. Mothers and fathers joined their children as volunteers and lawyers met with them and answered their questions. People moved briskly from one station to the next, eagerly completing their applications, waiting for the attorneys to tell them that they were ready to go.
In Los Angeles, over 140 volunteers assisted more than 1,800 DREAMers. Both lawyers and law students were on hand to help. The day began with a community education forum. The applicants then were pre-screened to make sure they were eligible for deferred action, as well as reviewing their documents. People who were missing documents got appointments for the next Application Center Event.
The Miami affiliate lead, Jose Machado, said: "The FL DREAM Clinic event in Miami was incredible -- such a beautiful sight! It was simply amazing to see all these families so excited, going through their papers, putting everything in order, and finishing those applications. I really felt like these families were joining together to push their children across the finish line."
In addition to deferred action, some immigrant youth found that they qualified for relief under other provisions of immigration law. Those who finished their applications were so fired up, they wanted to volunteer at the next application center event so they could help their fellow DREAMers. This is how DREAMers are – always looking for opportunities to organize and help each other out.
Despite the joy present in so many faces, that happiness was tempered by some sadness. Some of the people who came hoping to apply found that they couldn't because they didn't qualify -- because they were too old, or too young, or fell short of meeting all the criteria for deferred action. Despite the sadness we are encouraged by this to keep fighting for our communities until we win permanent policy changes that would provide a path to citizenship for our Dreamers and our families.
One question that everyone asked -- when is the next application center event? Right now, United We Dream is looking to hold the next set of application center events on September 22 and many of our affiliates are hosting clinics and forum almost every week.
(American Dream Editor's Note: You can check out their website OwnTheDREAM.org/UneteAlSueno.org for more information or to see an updated calendar of events.)
Cristina Jimenez is managing director of United We Dream.