Bay Area officials work to increase deferred action applications for immigrant children

Claudia Hernandez Chavez, her husband and five children arrived early to a workshop for assistance on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application, expecting to see a long line.

Instead, they sat down with an immigration attorney right away.

“We thought we were going to see many people here to get information and fill out paperwork,” Chavez, 31, said in Spanish. “But we didn’t really see anyone.”

Like many workshops to help immigrant children 15 and older obtain a two-year work permit under the Obama administration’s deferred action program, the recent workshop in Daly City sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee was less crowded than expected.

In the four hours of free, walk-in consultations, about 39 families showed up. And only 12 had children eligible for deferred action.

“It was slower than we had hoped,” said Christopher Martinez, senior program director of refugee and immigrant services for Catholic Charities CYO, which partnered with Yee on the workshop.

The rush for deferred action, enacted in July 2012 and costing $465 per applicant, occurred in August of that year.

Through July 2013, 573,404 people had applied, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. With the number of eligible children estimated at 1 million to 1.5 million, Martinez said the push continues.

“We’re trying to understand why they haven’t applied,” he said. “Maybe cost is an issue? Maybe fear of applying for not wanting to be exposed to the immigration service? Do they not fully understand the requirements?”

The dip in deferred action applicants has occurred in the entire Bay Area, added Martinez, whose organization spans San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties. Need has been greater in some East Bay cities — Hayward, Fremont and San Leandro — and San Jose, where Chavez’s family traveled from.

“My mother brought all my history — grades from school and evidence I’ve lived here — and they told me I was eligible,” said Chavez’s daughter, Lizbeth Gomez, 15. “It makes me feel like I actually have the opportunity to go to college and have a job.”

The workshop came a few days after two members of the “Gang of Seven” negotiating a bipartisan immigration reform deal in Congress withdrew from the group.

“Immigration is … not a priority as it was in the summer,” Martinez said.

Yee, D-San Francisco, encouraged families to apply for deferred action because it’s unknown if and when comprehensive immigration reform will pass.

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