Obama Administration Stops Work on Immigrant Program

Jerry Markon, Washington Post, June 7, 2015

A series of legal setbacks have halted the government’s intensive preparations to move forward with President Obama’s executive actions shielding millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, even as community organizations continue a rapid push to get ready for the programs, according to U.S. officials and immigrant advocacy groups.

Since a federal judge first blocked the new programs in February, the Department of Homeland Security has suspended plans to hire up to 3,100 new employees, most of whom would be housed in an 11-story building the government has leased for $7.8 million a year in Arlington, Va. That building, in the Crystal City area, is now sitting mostly unused, DHS employees say.

Yet inside and outside the Beltway, community groups are mobilizing, educating immigrants and training volunteers to help them apply for relief, even though it remains unclear whether the program will ever begin. Most recently, a foundation headed by billionaire George Soros, undaunted by the court rulings, pledged at least $8 million to that effort.

“We’re full speed ahead,” said Josh Hoyt, executive director of the Chicago-based National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of pro-immigrant groups that have held more than 700 information sessions on the new programs and trained more than 2,000 volunteers to aid immigrants in applying for them.

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As soon as Obama took his actions on Nov. 20, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “immediately began efforts to implement those initiatives,’’ said Marsha Catron, a DHS spokeswoman. The next day, the agency leased a 280,000-square-foot building on Crystal Drive in Crystal City to house DAPA employees, according to DHS documents sent to Congress.

The building came fully furnished but required about $26 million in start-up costs, including $2.7 million for workstation and desktop equipment, documents show. Those costs were to be funded with fees collected from immigrants who had applied for other government programs, and DHS says DAPA would have no impact on any existing programs.

Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of DHS, is central to managing the nation’s immigration system and processes more than 6 million citizenship and other applications and petitions each year.

The plan also called for 1,000 employees, mostly new hires, to start up DAPA in Crystal City and 400 staffers at other service centers nationwide to process applications for the expanded 2012 program for immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children. That program is known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Over time, however, Citizenship and Immigration Services projected that a total of 3,100 new employees might be needed for the two programs, which were expected to cost up to $484 million per year and be paid for by the $465 application fees required for each applicant.

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Across the nation, immigration advocacy organizations and other community groups are training people who will act as “navigators”–helping immigrants determine whether they are eligible for DAPA , locate key documents such as school transcripts and fill out the application. Activists describe the training as similar to that for another key Obama initiative, the Affordable Care Act, which also used navigators to help people enroll for health insurance.

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