Fort Worth

Fort Worth immigrants embrace reforms

Flor Duran has lived in Texas without legal status since she was 4, but that’s likely to change under President Barack Obama’s executive order.

Like millions of others who live in fear of deportation, Duran, 39, the mother of four U.S.-born children, can apply for temporary protection. She is among an estimated 4.1 million people expected to benefit from the order.

“This will open a lot of doors, believe me,” said Duran, whose family immigrated from the Mexican state of Coahuila to Fort Worth to improve their standard of living. “We have been waiting on this forever.”

Duran will apply under the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program, one of several executive actions Obama announced in November aimed at reforming portions of the nation’s immigration system. His plan includes initiatives aimed at keeping law-abiding immigrant families together. The plan will help many families that describe themselves as “mixed status” because members include U.S.-born green card holders and others with no legal status.

Immigration advocates have been studying the initiatives since they were announced and prepping to help applicants with the paperwork. Proyecto Inmigrante Immigration Counseling Services plans information sessions Dec. 14 and 20.

Phone calls are streaming in, said Douglas Interiano, CEO and founder of Proyecto Inmigrante.

“Our systems are going boom. There are a lot of people in the community who are confused. People want information and other people want to file,” he said, but forms are not yet available.

Interiano, whose agency is accredited with the Justice Department to help with immigration forms, said he tells people they need to start gathering records that prove they have been living in the U.S. Paperwork needed includes employment and school records, tax information and church memberships, he said.

Interiano said potential applicants also need to start saving money for fees. He also warned them to beware of scams or overpaying for help. He said he has already seen services charging $1,500- $2,000 to fill out forms that the federal government hasn’t even put out yet.

“That’s what we are here for,” Interiano said. “Our offices will be assisting low-income families.”

Learning more about the programs

Obama’s plan suspends the threat of deportations for millions. About 4.1 million will be temporarily protected and allowed to apply for work permits provided they are parents of U.S.-born children or legal permanent residents, pass a background check and pay fees.

The plan also expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, under which thousands of young people have been been working and living without threat of deportation. The program already protects some 610,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as youngsters with no legal status.

Previously, applicants had to be under 31 as of June 15, 2012, and had to show they continuously lived in the United States since June 15, 2007. Interiano said more Dreamers, the children of parents with no status, will be able to apply because the age limit was removed and the residency requirement changed. The expanded program calls for residency in the United States continuously since Jan. 1, 2010.

Erika Rocha, 23, an immigrant advocate from Fort Worth, said some of her relatives will apply as soon as applications are available. But some relatives and friends will be left out because they don’t meet the guidelines. For example, a family with parents who are undocumented and children who weren’t born in the U.S. and don’t have green cards would not be eligible.

Rocha, who lives and works in the U.S. through the childhood arrivals program, said Obama’s plan ushered in a bittersweet holiday season.

“There will be those who didn’t qualify,” Rocha said. “As a family we are happy for each other.”

Rocha said advocacy work needs to continue beyond the executive order so that Congress will be moved to overhaul the system. The childhood arrivals program and the new plan are temporary fixes, she said.

“We want them to be able to work,” she said. “We want them to be about to travel. We want them to be here without fear of deportation.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram