Students and parents from throughout the Montebello Unified School District filled Bell Gardens High School’s cafeteria last week for a workshop to help young undocumented immigrants apply for a federal program that would make them eligible for employment and keep them from being deported.
Under DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, undocumented immigrants brought into the country before the age of 16 and who meet certain other eligibility requirements — are 30-years-old or younger; have lived in the United States continuously for at least five years; are enrolled in school, graduated from high school or obtained a general education development certificate (GED); or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces, and who have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors or pose a threat to national security —could be allowed to stay in the country legally for two years, and possibly longer.
Filing the necessary paper work, however, is not always easy, nor is getting all the supporting documents to prove eligibility.
The workshop in Bell Gardens, hosted by MUSD, State Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello Teachers Association and The Southeast Leadership Association, was designed to help parents and students step-by-step with the application process. Immigration attorneys were brought on site to review the paperwork.
MUSD Board Member Paul Montoya attended the workshop and told EGP it was a great opportunity for students who have graduated or will be graduating to continue their education and to be able to work.
Montoya said it’s important to get the right information about the process “because there’s a lot of misinformation and confusion going on and just clarifying all the points and the aspects of the process will just make people more informed and more at ease into actually going and registering.”
Calderon, who represents the 30th Senate District, told EGP that his entire eastside district, which includes the cities of Bell Gardens, Commerce and Montebello, is home to a large immigrant population. “So, we’re going to go to the densely populated area first to get the word out and that will put as many people as possible on the deferred action program,” Calderon said.
Those who filled out the paperwork have a chance of getting a social security number, a work permit, and would be at least allowed to stay in the country legally while the pathway to citizenship issue is being resolved in D.C, said Calderon.
Paola Chavez attended the workshop to help her son change his illegal immigrant status and to help him with his future.
“He’s a student, and since he’s been getting good grades, I want him to be able to go to college,” said Chavez, speaking in Spanish. “There are a lot of people who need the help.”
For Ana Hernandez, the opportunity for her 17-year-old daughter to attend college will be determined by whether the Bell Gardens High School senior gets her deferred action request granted so she can get a job to pay for school.
“My daughter is the only one of my children who is not documented, and because she wants to continue her education, it’s important for me to learn more about this and be able to help her,” said Hernandez
Some individuals, like Lorena Nuñez, 21, attended the event to personally fill out their own applications in hopes of going back to school and eventually getting a stable job.
“There’s a lot of help now so I might as well [apply] now,” said Nuñez.
Teresa Biernetzki, a counselor for one of MUSD’s adult school programs, told EGP she attended the workshop to learn more about the process to help her students who had questions about the documentation the application requires.
“These [workshops] are very important because these are people that are in limbo right now and they need guidance, they need an opportunity to make a living and to pursue their careers,” Calderon said. “This is allowing them to do that.”
According to Bell Gardens Mayor Pro Tem Sergio Infanzon, local workshops like the one at Bell Gardens High School have helped 5,500 young people apply for deferred action status since August 2012.
Montoya emphasized that “It’s for the benefit of our neighborhood, our state and our nation to validate these students who are putting the effort and dedication to [be ableto] continue their studies.”
For more information about deferred action visit www.uscis.gov or call 1-800-375-5283.