At a press conference at the Capitol this afternoon, several community groups and a representative of the Diocese of Little Rock voiced their support for President Obama’s executive action on immigration announced last night.
Jenna Greer and Special Sanders of the Arkansas United Community Coalition (AUCC) said that about 14,000 undocumented adults in Arkansas should be eligible to take advantage of the order and obtain relief from deportation. Another 2,000 youth will also qualify. Prior to Obama’s new round of executive action, about 14,000 young immigrants in Arkansas were already eligible for relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; DACA, which went into effect in 2012, allows certain children who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors to stay in the country after paying a $460 fee and going through a lengthy application process. The new round of executive action is modeled on DACA.
Editorial aside — I’ve heard different estimates from other sources on the number of Arkansas residents who may be eligible for relief under last night’s announcement. Bishop Anthony Taylor’s statements below puts the number as high as 60,000. Also, note that of the estimated 14,000 Arkansan kids and young adults who were already eligible for DACA, fewer than 10,000 have actually applied for and received the status. That may be due to several factors: fear of approaching the authorities with an application, a lack of information about the policy, or a lack of $460.
Crissy Monterrey, a local immigration attorney, said that applications will not be available for another 60 to 180 days. “You cannot file at this time, but you can get your documents together,” she said, and warned immigrants in the interim period to be wary of scammers seeking to dupe victims into handing over their money.
Sanders said that’s not an idle concern. “Some of the people applying for DACA in the past were scammed,” she said, noting that the Arkansas Attorney General’s office has been helpful in combating such fraud. “We’d like to continue our relationship with the AG’s Consumer Protection Office.” AUCC has yet to reach out to Leslie Rutledge, the incoming Attorney General, but Sanders said they’re planning on doing so soon. In the meantime, the group will hold a series of community meetings across Arkansas to warn people about fraud and scams and keep them informed as the application process develops.
Rep. Fred Love (D-Little Rock) was the only elected official at the press conference. “I’m here to show my support for the actions President Obama has taken,” he said. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the Christian thing to do — because my obligation is with my brothers.”
Father Jason Tyler of St. Edwards, which is one of several Catholic congregations in Little Rock with a large Hispanic population, called the action a “positive if only temporary step.” (Indeed, whoever succeeds Obama in two years could just as easily reverse this executive order.) Both Tyler and AUCC emphasized that executive action is no replacement for comprehensive immigration reform from Congress.
Tyler also handed out a statement from Bishop Taylor, who’s been especially outspoken on the immigration issue. “While we are optimistic the president’s executive actions may help as many as 60,000 Arkansans, they are not the long-term solution to a broken system of immigration laws and regulations. We long for the day when people who have migrated to our country will be received by an immigration policy that is just and fair,” he said, and then invoked words from Pope Francis:
Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.