face major hurdles in signing up to new Obama plan
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[November 20, 2014]
By Lawrence Hurley and Mica Rosenberg
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - President
Barack Obama's televised address to the nation on Thursday may prove the
easiest part of his controversial plan to relax U.S. immigration policy.
Implementing it will be difficult and many people may never benefit,
warn immigration lawyers.
Sources close to the administration say Obama will announce that
some parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are to
be given a reprieve from deportation. Up to 5 million people could
benefit from the move.
But immigration advocacy groups say they don't have sufficient
resources to provide legal services to their existing clients, never
mind the millions of potential new ones. Obama's proposal is not
expected to provide for federal funding for attorneys to guide
immigrants through the process.
"If the past is any indication, it's going to be a significant
increase in people asking for legal assistance," said Karla
McKanders, who runs the immigration law clinic at the University of
Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville.
The new plan is expected to be similar to Obama's 2012 executive
action, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that
halted deportation and granted work permits to immigrants brought
illegally to the country as young children.
McKanders said she and her students were already swamped because of
DACA. In many parts of the United States, especially rural areas,
there are either not enough private immigration lawyers or they are
not affordable to most undocumented immigrants.
Only 55 percent of the estimated 1.2 million young people eligible
under DACA have applied, according to an August report by the
Migration Policy Institute.
There is another problem. Immigrants who have lived illegally in the
United States for many years can be afraid to sign up or lack the
proper documentation to back up their claims, said Jacqueline Rishty
from the Immigration Legal Services Program of Catholic Charities in
The lack of immigration lawyers also opens the door for
self-described legal experts who give bad advice or even scam
clients out of thousands of dollars. The American Bar Association
has warned of fraudsters offering legal services in Spanish-speaking
"I think this is going to be a prime opportunity for folks to be
scammed," said Adolfo Hernandez who works on immigrant affairs in
the Chicago mayor's office.
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Formal legal advice is not always needed to process immigration
applications and many people will likely file on their own, but
some, especially those who lack English language or literacy skills,
will need help from people with at least some legal training to fill
out the paperwork.
Good legal representation can make a huge difference in some of the
tougher cases, said Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Second Circuit in a speech on Wednesday in New York.
For immigrants who can't afford to pay for legal help, cities with
big immigrant populations are already gearing up to help immigrants
potentially eligible under Obama's plan.
New York City, for example, is getting ready by talking to private
foundations about providing fund for legal aid and outreach. The
city spent $18 million over two years on subway ads and other
measures to help implement DACA.
"The plan to act may come from the federal level, but ultimately the
responsibility falls on cities to step up and ensure the successful
implementation of the program," said New York City's Commissioner of
Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal.
Chicago is also planning to spread the word about legal services by
sending information home with public school children.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Amy
Stevens and Ross Colvin)
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