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DACA Advice at Your Fingertip

Monday, August 19, 2013

  • By: Lynn Brezosky
  • Organization: San Antonio Express News

It's said there's an app for everything, and a coalition of immigration attorneys and advocacy groups say they weren't about to make the year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) the exception.

The free Pocket DACA mobile app, unveiled Wednesday, makes available reams of information on eligibility, applications and ZIP code-specific resources to anyone with a touch screen.

"We knew the market we're serving are those that don't have traditional desktop access to information, " said Reid Trautz, director of practice and professionalism for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "Younger people, their mobile device is their connection to the Internet and the world."

The app can downloaded from Apple iTunes and Google Play stores.

The hotly debated Obama Administration initiative grants two-year, renewable reprieves from deportation and work authorization to young people who were illegally brought to the United States as children.

At the Aug. 15, 2012, start of DACA, it was estimated about 900,000 people were immediately eligible.

Some 59 percent have already applied, with a Brookings Institution study this week showing more than half the applicants were under 21.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which argues the administration had no authority for DACA, said the app was unnecessary considering just about everyone who applied got approved.

"It's a rubber-stamping operation, " he said. "Anyone can go out and create an app. Our issue is with the program."

Trautz said the idea for an app was kicking around almost as soon as the policy was announced.

But those who support DACA - an outgrowth of the movement for a DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act that would offer a path to citizenship to those brought to the U.S. as children - weren't sure it would survive if President Barack Obama had lost the November election.

Work on the app started in December, Trautz said.

The immigration lawyers group, along with the American Immigration Council, the Immigration Advocates Network and the Own the Dream campaign, teamed with Mobisoft Infotech and Pro Bono Net to put it together.

A would-be applicant can first participate in a short screening interview to see if he or she meets basic eligibility for DACA, then learn how and where to apply.

The Legal Help feature provides a search by ZIP code or GPS to immigration lawyers and organizations providing DACA assistance.

There's also a news feed, a poll aimed at helping the organizations learn more about the DACA pool and a screen with frequently asked questions, such as "Should I wait for immigration reform?" and "I can't afford to pay $465 to apply for DACA. What can I do?"

"Our goal with Pocket DACA is to empower those who may be eligible for deferred action to better understand the requirements and find reputable legal help, but also to engage more deeply with potential applicants about their experiences and concerns, " said Matthew Burnett, director of the Immigration Advocates Network.

A Spanish-language version of the app is under construction, and there's talk of adding more languages if funding permits, Burnett said.

Patrick Taurel of the American Immigration Council said people who think they are ineligible because of their education level or a traffic infraction such as driving without a license might find out they're wrong.

As of Friday morning, the app already had been downloaded nearly 1,500 times.

San Antonio College sophomore Johana DeLeon, a DREAM Act activist who was brought to the country from Monclova, Mexico, when she was 9 years old, had it on both her tablet and her smartphone.

"I was talking to a DREAMer about deferred action and I just showed it to them and said, hey, if you have someone who is not confident about coming to us or to lawyers, tell them to download it and maybe it can help them and make them less afraid of coming out to seek some help," she said.

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Neil Steinkamp

Rebecca Berlow, a corporate attorney, has worked as a volunteer with The Legal Aid Society's Immigration Unit Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA") clinics and has assisted the Society with disaster relief efforts, greatly improving their Access to Benefits hotline by developing a new intake system. Learn more

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