This week has the phone ringing off the hook at the local Just Neighbors.
Just Neighbors, an immigration legal services group that serves all of Northern Virginia, began scheduling appointments Wednesday with young immigrants who want to stay in the country legally. The Obama administration began allowing an estimated 1.7 million young undocumented immigrants to apply for the temporary right to legally live and work in the United States beginning Wednesday.
The measures are similar to what would have been allowed under the Dream Act, which stalled in Congress. The moves are targeted to benefit immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Administration officials posted application forms online Tuesday for the program, named the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“People are excited, yes,” said Rob Rutland-Brown, Just Neighbors executive director. “We’re trying to help remind people this is not the Dream Act; this is not a path to citizenship. This is a temporary benefit that will allow them to work and prevent them from being deported, but this is not the Dream Act.
“So this is great news, but we want people to keep in mind what the act is and what it isn’t.”
The agency, which is scheduling appointments in Falls Church and Herndon, charges $100 to help young immigrants complete five required immigration forms. First, case workers assess their eligibility, screen them for other immigration opportunities and determine any risk in applying.
The program is open to immigrants who are under age 31 who came to the United States when they were 15 or younger. They need to have continuously lived in the country since June 2007 and are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a GED certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran. Applicants cannot have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more misdemeanors or otherwise pose any threat to public safety.
Rutland-Brown said a recent study found that an estimated 14,000 immigrants in Virginia would be eligible for the program, with 4,000 to 5,000 of those living in Northern Virginia. The majority of the eligible immigrants are Hispanic, he said.
An employee of Hogar Immigrant Services, operated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington and based in Falls Church, said that office had been busy, as well.
“We have received a lot of calls, we are basically doing consultations first to see if the client qualifies for the relief,” said the employee, who did not give her name because she was not authorized to speak to the media. She referred Patch to Catholic Charities, where a call was not answered.
The agency has also seen a good number of walk-in clients, the employee said.
Hogar Immigrant Services charges $50 per consultation and additional fees based on each immigrant’s needs. Clients have come from as far away as Richmond.
The application process for young immigrants involves extensive documents they must provide. These include government-issued identification, proof of entry prior to age 16, continuous residency in the United States for the past five years, school records, documentation of any departures from the United States and, if applicable, any criminal history records. The government also charges a $465 fee per application.
Immigrants in the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax County, home to a sizable Hispanic community, have shown great interest in the program, said Executive Director Cristina Schoendorf of Progreso Literacy and Citizenship Center. Progreso does not offer legal services but directs clients to organizations such as Just Neighbors or Hogar Immigrant Services.
“I think our clients know that we don’t handle it, so we just guide them to places that are offering it so they can get the most accurate information, because it is confusing,” Schoendorf said.