By Robert Cyr
Leaders of state Latino advocacy groups say they are hearing testimonials from immigrants that lawyers are unscrupulously cashing in on a recent temporary change in immigration policy that relaxes rules for immigrants brought to the country illegally.
President Obama announced recently that illegal immigrants under the age of 30 will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED, or served in the military. They can also apply for a work permit that will be good for two years, with unlimited renewal.
Latino advocacy groups, like Hartford’s Center for Latino Progress, await the details of the plan, which are set to be released on Aug. 15, said the center’s executive director, Yanil Teron. Her group held a chat for potentially affected immigrants on Wednesday night in Hartford.
Teron said she learned from several undocumented immigrants this week that, as soon as Obama made the announcement, some sought the help of lawyers who began charging for the most basic of services – without the needed federal guidelines. “Lawyers started taking money from people and they shouldn’t have been doing that,” Teron said. “They were charging them money to fill out forms they could have filled out themselves.”
Teron credited the rush of immigrant activity to a widely held misconception that the recent announcement was a change in law.
“It’s not a law and it’s not permanent,” she said. “We met this week because we don’t know yet the full guidelines to apply. We want to be ready to help people when those are released. The most important thing is no one should be paying a penny to anyone right now. That’s what we want to avoid.”
Teron’s group met with the Junta for Progressive Action Inc., a New Haven-based advocacy group that will partner with the Center for Latino Progress to help immigrants with the new measures and line them up with specialized immigration attorneys, Teron said.
But while the new regulations are being heralded by many Democrats in an election year – an important and potentially dangerous situation may arise when immigrant begin applying for the program, and by doing so, admitting their status – and the status of their parents, said Carolina Bortolleto, a spokesperson for CT Students for a Dream.
Bortolleto’s group, with branches in Stamford, Brideport, New Britain and Danbury, is gearing up to help the estimated 9,000 Latinos in the state that could qualify for the program, she said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Bortolleto said. “It will allow immigrants to continue on in society.
But it’s only a temporary solution, and we don’t know what will happen after that. We don’t know yet if the process will protect the parents or not. It’s something everyone is talking about.”
Junta Executive Director Sandra Trevino agreed. “We still have a long way to go on immigration reform,” she said. “But it’s good move forward. It remains to be seen what is going to happen.”
Under the new rules, more than 800,000 immigrants from various nations could be affected, according to the documents from the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Policy Center. In Connecticut, where a total 9,360 people may be eligible for the program, 6,660 are between the ages of 15 and 30 and 2,700 are considered “future potential beneficiaries” between the ages of five and 14.
Mexican-born beneficiaries in the state number 1,760, while 2,070 immigrants are from North and Central America.The highest population of potential beneficiaries are from South America, at 3,370 people, according to council documents.
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By Robert Cyr