Nancy Frausto could hardly wait to keep her Oct. 18 appointment with the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service (IRIS) to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival or “DACA” eligibility.
A Bloy House seminarian, popular lay leader and postulant for holy orders in the Diocese of Los Angeles, Frausto, 29, has been waiting a very long time to get a driver’s license, travel on an airplane, go to a night club with friends, and emerge from the shadow existence she has lived since arriving undocumented in this country at seven years of age.
“I remember hearing the announcements on August 15 and the first thing I thought was, I’m finally free. I don’t have to worry any more. I can finally have the normal life my friends have,” she said during an Oct. 5 telephone interview.
An Obama administration directive went into effect Aug. 15, making Frausto and other “DREAMers” eligible to apply for a form of immigration relief that would protect them against deportation and allow them the ability to apply for a work permit, according to Meghan Tumilty, executive director of IRIS, a program of the diocese in cooperation with Episcopal Migration Ministries, Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services and Church World Service.
DREAMers are undocumented young people who qualify under the provisions of the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors or DREAM Act, which offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who meet certain criteria.
“We are gearing up to take on as many DACA cases as needed,” Tumilty said during a recent telephone interview from her office.
The directive came in the form of a June 15 Department of Homeland Security memorandum to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) explaining how prosecutorial discretion should be applied to people who came to the United States as children.
Specifically, the memorandum directs that certain young people who do not present a risk to national security or public safety and meet specified criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for two years, subject to renewal, and to apply for work authorization. Requests are to be decided on a case-by-case basis, and applicants must pass a background check before they receive deferred action.
Tumilty views potential DACA cases as a springboard for the agency, which has resettled more than 6,000 international refugees from Iraq to Africa in the Los Angeles area since 2005, to expand services among the Latino community.
“We are bringing on a community organizer to go out to churches and do initial screenings for possible DACA beneficiaries and refer them to IRIS. Or IRIS can go to churches to help with the application process,” she said.
She and Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce have also met with clergy to explain how local congregations may participate.
“The churches will organize groups of volunteers and do the outreach for the event and IRIS legal services staff will come and screen DREAMers for DACA and answer questions they have about the process. It has been a great partnership so far,” she said.
An estimated 1.76 million individuals potentially qualify nationally; California has the highest number of any state at about 460,000, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Some 275,000 potential beneficiaries are believed to reside in the Los Angeles area.
The Migration Policy Institute estimated application fees at about $465; IRIS charges about $200 for the service and is encouraging potential applicants to call for an appointment, Tumilty said.
Frausto said she is grateful to IRIS, the diocese and the church for their support.
“It’s beautiful to be part of a church and part of a diocese that is doing something for so many young adults who are cast out, who are living in the shadows,” she said. “What IRIS is doing, putting together this program at a very low cost, speaks of God’s love in our diocese.
“These are people who are putting in extra hours and going through the paperwork and they’re not taking advantage of anybody,” she said. “That shows how much they’re willing to help. They recognize the need out there.
“One of the lawyers I was talking to was going to charge me a $1,500 retainer — just a retainer, to start the paperwork,” she said.
Two months before the Obama administration announcement, the attorney whose aid Frausto sought told her “that I would have to leave the country for 10 years and apply and then you don’t know how many years you will have to wait to get back in.
“I was in tears,” she recalled. “My whole life is here. To be told very coldly that you have to leave the country and apply and you don’t know how many years you will have to wait” was crushing, she said.
Then came the announcement “out of nowhere … and I thought, is this real? It’s amazing, just knowing that I am going to exist. As funny as that sounds, I will have an I.D. I am going to wear it as a necklace, that yes, I am here.”
She praised IRIS for its efforts.
“There are so many people who are so desperate, who have paid all this money. IRIS is doing it for $200. It’s just amazing to be in this diocese … that to me as a DREAMer means so much.
“Whoever came up with that name, DREAMer, was right. It’s true for a lot of us who are in this situation. It’s keeping your head down, following every single rule so you don’t get into any type of trouble, feeling like you missed out on a lot of opportunities. You graduate from high school and feel like your life is going nowhere, no matter how well you did, what grades you got, because it’s so difficult to get financial aid. It’s existing but not being visible in this country where we’ve grown up. And it really is much more our country than where we were born.”
IRIS also employs a staff immigration attorney and is a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) certified agency, which means its agents “have been licensed and accredited by the highest immigration court in the United States to represent people as their attorney even though they’re not an attorney,” Tumilty said. “It’s a unique thing as far as the world of law, to have a non-attorney be able to represent someone in court.”
The agency also plans to add an addition BIA-accredited representative because of the demand for services, she said.
“We’re here and we’re ready,” Tumilty said. “We’re scheduling appointments a couple of weeks out; some of the larger immigration community-based organization’s next available DACA intake appointment is not until March.”
Still, there is fear, both in the community and for Frausto, especially if the current administration changes after the November elections. But Tumilty said she has faith the order will stand.
The IRIS staff conducts a quick telephone screening for callers with DACA questions. The next step is to schedule an intake appointment for a $30 fee.
It involves a more in-depth screening of client history including school transcripts, proof of continuous residency, and other information along with an explanation of what IRIS representation means.
“We’re with each of our clients every step of the way. We don’t just help them gather the documents, file and it’s over,” Tumilty said. “If there are any issues, we follow up for them.”
As for Frausto, she can hardly wait for her “new” life to begin.
“There are so many people who have looked out for me and encouraged me,” she said. “I am where I am today because of my church. I am so close to finishing seminary, something I thought would never happen, and, God willing, I’ll be ordained.
“It’s so beautiful to know my dreams are about to become a reality because there are so many people out there, living God’s love. They helped that very angry teenaged girl that was so mad at the system turn all her anger around and make something positive out of it. I am so filled with gratitude to my church, my diocese, my bishops. It just goes to show you how good God is.”