As the discussion continues about potential changes in national immigration policy, the uncertainty has produced a rush of requests for legal help as those with different types of non-citizenship status weigh options for work, family and travel.
Immigration attorneys Shilpa Shah and Felipe Zavala addressed more than 80 people Wednesday in Amarillo College’s Oak Room for “Immigration Matters,” a forum sponsored by the college’s legal studies department, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and the Legal Society of Amarillo College.
Robin Malone, assistant professor of legal studies and coordinator of paralegal studies, said the idea for the immigration forum came from national discussion and rising requests for advice from AC’s legal clinic. The forum’s goal was to provide additional information to students and the public about laws, regulations and recent executive orders.
Illegal immigration reemerged as a heated topic during the 2016 presidential campaign. So far in his presidency, President Donald Trump has issued immigration-related executive orders that have faced judicial scrutiny and has begun opening moves to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
One branch of immigration policy particularly affecting college-age students across the country is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy enacted in 2012 by President Barack Obama. As a presidential directive, DACA can easily be reversed by President Trump’s signature.
There are more than 760,000 people in the U.S. who qualify for lower deportation priority under the policy – including more than 200,000 in Texas, Zavala said.
The uncertainty, Zavala said, means a tough decision: Do people eligible for DACA immigration status divulge their whereabouts and apply with the risk of no-appeal denials or the program being scrapped? Do those whose DACA status will soon expire apply for renewal with the same risks?
Zavala said those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, which highlights the complexity of immigration law. Many, he said, are staying put and avoiding unnecessary travel to their home countries to avoid being barred from returning, which is a practice Shah and Zavala said they strongly recommend to those with non-citizen status.
That is the dilemma for Olga Rodriguez, who attended and graduated from Amarillo College as a DACA student, who are commonly referred to as “Dreamers.” Her parents brought her to the U.S. in 1984. She considered applying for documents necessary for reentry after visiting her ill grandmother in Mexico. She has decided not to risk travel since even if she were to get the documents, whether she could return to the U.S. would be at the discretion of border agents.
Rodriguez continues working though she doesn’t know what will happen when her DACA status expires.
“It’s hard, uncertain times, but we’re here and I plan on staying,” Rodriguez told forum attendees.
Wednesday’s seminar was one of a series of forums scheduled by the LSAC and partners. Other topics have included veterans’ issues and landlord-tenant laws. A discussion on estate planning for families with special needs children is scheduled in April.