More than 100 young undocumented immigrants cycled through Grace Lutheran Church in Richmond on Saturday to meet with volunteers and lawyers, and fill out applications to apply for deferred action.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a federal program implemented over the summer that allows immigrants to apply for worker’s permits and offers safety from deportation for two years at a time.
The program requires a variety of qualifications, many of which can be hard to prove. The applicants at Saturday’s event, held by the Catholic Charities of the East Bay, had already undergone a prescreening that determined they would likely meet the program’s requirements and be accepted. They came with thick packets of documents in hand to prove their eligibility.
“This is the low-hanging fruit,” said Lily Sturgis, an attorney with Catholic Charities of the East Bay, as she looked around the packed cafeteria and helped shuttle people from one station to the next.
Last week Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that offers another benefit for young adults accepted into DACA: the possibility of getting a driver’s license in California.
The law amends the Department of Motor Vehicles’ guidelines for which documents are needed to obtain a license, insuring that the new documents issued by the federal government to those in the deferred action program qualify. It will not go into effect until January 1.
New Mexico, Washington and Utah already grant driving privileges to undocumented immigrants—regardless of their participation in the DACA program. But with the new program it’s likely others will follow California’s lead to give licenses to those who qualify, Sturgis said.
“I think we’ll see something similar in more liberal states,” she said. “We do lead and it’ll be a good example, but not everyone will follow.”
In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order in August declaring that DACA participants would not be able to obtain driver’s license or any other public benefits in her state.
On the same day Brown signed the licensing bill he vetoed two other more comprehensive immigrant rights bills: AB 889, known as the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which would have guaranteed basic labor protections — overtime pay, meals and rest breaks — for undocumented workers employed as housekeepers and child-care providers; and AB 1081, the TRUST act, which would have limited how local law enforcement officers implement a controversial federal directive that officers check fingerprints of people they arrest against a federal immigration database and hold those who are in the country illegally.
Andrea Salgado, an 18-year old volunteer at the Catholic Charities deferred action workshop—and an undocumented immigrant—spent Saturday organizing applicant’s final folders and making sure they were aware of any missing documents. For her the issue of deferred action and driver’s licenses is pretty simple—she’s for both.
“I don’t even remember where I’m from,” Salgado said. Having lived in Richmond for 14 of her 18 years, it is all she knows, and she’s never worried too much about her status. “I never thought about it,” Salgado said before giggling. “It’s never been in my mind that, ‘Oh you’re going to be deported.’”
She’d like to get a driver’s license, too, if she’s qualified for DACA. “It would be good,” she said. “I don’t know why us immigrants can’t get driver’s licenses if we’re not from here.”