Embrace the challenge
by Foster, on News
Many Houston residents – our neighbors – stand to benefit from President Obama’s latest executive action on immigration enforcement priorities. This action is expected to give upwards of 200,000 people, who are now undocumented, the ability to work in the Houston area and to obtain a Social Security card and a driver’s license.
Arguably Houston’s finest moment in the past decade was its response to more than 100,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The needs of displaced persons are different from those of people coming out of the shadows, but Houston should once again embrace its latest challenge as an opportunity. Such an attitude reflects our city’s best values.
Under the executive action, to qualify to work here, a person who is undocumented must not have a criminal record and must have lived in the U.S. continuously since 2010 or be a parent of a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident. Those qualifying will have to reapply in three years.
The ability to work here without fear will improve not only the lives of these people but the lives of their children, their spouses, their friends and their grandchildren. Yet many of the undocumented don’t know how to qualify for the deferred action from deportation. Many fear reprisals by law enforcement if they seek guidance from immigration officials.
Regardless of whether one agrees with Obama’s executive action, there is virtue in avoiding exploitation of workers and workforce confusion. It’s in the best interest of our city that we all work together not only to help working families benefit from this historic opportunity but to preserve the stability of the local economy.
The mayor’s office jumped in early, and the Greater Houston Partnership, a leading business organization, has offered to assist in convening social services agencies, philanthropies, employers and faith-based groups to come up with an organizational structure to push for deep engagement.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is scheduled to start accepting applications from those eligible for exemption in mid-May of this year. An action plan can’t come too soon.
Generally, the undocumented do not join civic clubs, and many have taken steps to conceal their presence. For these reasons, proving residency through rental stubs, receipts and work history may be a challenge.
Employers are the front line of providing relevant information about persons who might qualify for this status, and they should step up and assist in this process. The relevant guidelines that provide that information will not be used in enforcement actions against either the applicants or the employers, according to Charles C. Foster, a local immigration attorney.
The Houston Bar Association can play an important role by training volunteers and disseminating lists of reliable, trained lawyers. Attorneys who donate their time to assist in vetting claims and reviewing documentation, and particularly those who take on multiple cases, as opposed to just one, deserve a word of thanks. Philanthropies like the Houston Endowment should consider funding support services such as training for lawyers to assist the applicants.
Neighborhood Centers hosts monthly immigration forums to tell potential beneficiaries where to get help and who can help. Every social service agency should step up to keep these immigrants from being victimized by fraudulent operators such as notarios, who claim to be authorized to give immigration advice. In many Spanish-speaking nations, notarios are powerful attorneys with special legal credentials; not so in the U.S. Faith-based organizations that have been at the forefront of reminding us of the dignity of each human being regardless of immigration status can also play an important role in directing their parishioners to legitimate service providers.
The USCIS website states, “The wrong help can hurt.” Fortunately, with leadership from the city and the Greater Houston Partnership and others, we should beable to get our neighbors the right kind of help: help from a caring community.