Hansi Lo Wang, NPR, September 30, 2014
Mexico is helping some of its citizens apply for a controversial immigration program in the U.S. called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
Since the Obama administration created the program in 2012, more than 580,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors have received temporary relief from deportation and been given work permits that last for at least two years.
But 45 percent of those who are eligible for DACA have not applied, and the cost may be holding some back. Immigrants have to pay a total of $465 to the Department of Homeland Security for fees related to the work permit and for required fingerprinting.
Mexican consulates around the U.S. have been paying those fees for some applicants through a little-known program for Mexican citizens with financial need.
Before applying for DACA, Tania Guzman was worried about revealing to the U.S. government that she left Mexico City and crossed the border illegally when she was 7 years old.
She finally managed to apply last October after her lawyer from Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm based in California, told her she qualified for financial assistance from the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles. Since 2012, that consulate has set aside $250,000 to help, so far, more than 260 Mexican citizens apply for DACA.
Guzman, who was granted deferred action in May, says she paid $50. The rest of her attorney’s and application fees were covered by Mexico.
The Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., does not keep track of how many DACA applications the consulates have funded nationwide, according to Julian Escutia, head of the embassy’s consular coordination and Hispanic affairs section.
Escutia, who oversees national programs for Mexico’s 50 consulates around the U.S., stresses that financial assistance for Mexican citizens applying for DACA is limited and based on need.
Paying for DACA applications, he added, is just one way Mexican consulates are trying to support Mexican citizens living in the U.S.
“If it’s a program that helps youth to work in this country, well, that helps our nationals, and that helps us,” he said.
Mexico’s support for DACA applicants may seem counterintuitive, says Emily Edmonds-Poli, a professor who teaches Mexican politics at the University of San Diego, but she said it shows that the Mexican government is acknowledging a decades-long migration trend that led to 9 percent of people born in Mexico now living in the U.S.
That has driven Mexico to build better relations with Mexicans abroad in hopes of maintaining remittance flows and other cross-border economic activity.