WASHINGTON, June 12, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This Sunday, June 15, marks the two-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which directs the Department of Homeland Security to exercise prosecutorial discretion and defer deporting certain undocumented immigrants that arrived in the United States as children.
Many Centers in the Appleseed network have been dedicated and active advocates for immigrant rights; in anticipation of the DACA anniversary, Appleseed has released a comprehensive review of the program. Not merely a retrospective, the report also provides guidance for improving the DACA program and implementing a more permanent immigration reform solution as well.
Over the course of several months, our pro bono partners at law firm Akin Gump conducted interviews with numerous lawyers representing DACA applicants as well as with applicants themselves. An analysis of the data collected in these interviews, together with expertise from the Appleseed network of Centers active on immigration issues and government effectiveness, provides an informational base that can help answer some difficult questions:
- How can DACA reach those who have yet to apply?
- How can the lessons learned from DACA improve future immigrant programs?
- What lessons can advocates and pro bono attorneys glean from their colleagues who have helped young adult immigrants apply for DACA?
Sample Key Findings
- DACA provides a two-year renewable reprieve for individuals who need the long-term solution only Congress can provide. Because DACA is only a stopgap – and expensive – measure, some eligible individuals have elected not to apply for the program as they await a more permanent program.
- Undocumented immigrants in rural areas or in communities with limited internet access are less informed about DACA, so these communities have not utilized DACA to the same extent as others.
- One of the most effective ways to process applications is to hold group processing clinics. Effective DACA clinics require outreach prior to the clinic, as well as well as well-trained volunteers, an appropriate forum, and an organized flow-through system.
- Major law firms, in concert with non-governmental organizations, should organize clinics where pro bono counsel could run clinics and assist potential applicants.
- Immigration counsel should provide deeply discounted services to those who cannot afford counsel.
- Grants for nonprofit justice centers proposed in the Registered Provisional Immigrant program are a step in the right direction.
- The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services should consider working with state bar associations that require continuing legal education credits to offer such credit for the provision of pro bono service to advise and assist persons considering filing DACA, DREAMer or RPI applications.
- Creative programs that allow for matching of pro bono counsel to clients remotely, and "meeting" by email or other electronic means should be expanded to meet the needs of millions of potentially eligible persons, especially the rural populations identified repeatedly in our interviews as needing legal services.
- Bar rules should be adjusted, if necessary, to allow for limited scope representation, unbundled legal services, volunteer lawyer for a day programs, and pro se clinics staffed by trained lawyers who could provide assistance to potential applicants.
In sum, our country needs an integrated strategy of outreach and organizing, communications, policy and law to provide high-stakes, high-quality legal advice and assistance to help on a grand and historic scale. We can and should learn from the experience of rolling out DACA to build an even bigger and more effective system of delivering legal services to millions of aspiring American applicants.
When the long-overdue time comes for providing legal relief to millions of neighbors and coworkers who are already an important part of the social and economic fabric of the country, lawyers individually and the profession as a whole should stand ready to help.
Appleseed, a nonprofit network of 17 public justice centers in the United States and Mexico, uncovers and corrects injustices through legal, legislative, and market-based structural reform.