Immigration service pushes for childhood arrivals to sign up for social security cards, work permits

Cabrini Immigrant Services is canvassing the Lower East Side with posters in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Haitian-Creole and Hindi to let young immigrants know about 'a safe opportunity' to gain temporary status.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 5:21 AM

“Don't have immigration papers? Scared of deportation? Want to get a work permit?” a new flyer plastered around immigrant neighborhoods provocatively asks.

The poster — in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Haitian-Creole and Hindi — is part of a city-wide push to get more people to sign up for a special program called deferred action for childhood arrivals, which grants social security cards and work permits to young immigrants here illegally.

Emma Murphy, a coordinator at Cabrini Immigrant Services in the Lower East Side, canvassed her neighborhood this month, hanging them everywhere — from pharmacies and restaurants to bodegas and flower shops.

As the second anniversary of the Obama administration program approaches, advocates are trying to reach the estimated half a million in the U.S. who qualify but haven’t applied.

“We feel our responsibility is to create a sense of trust — to convey that this is a safe opportunity,” said Murphy, who also visited the Guatemalan consulate to promote the program. “So many people didn’t know about it, and it’s been around for two years.”

The Obama administration rolled out deferred action in August 2012 for undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as kids, often called Dreamers because many would have qualified for the stalled federal Dream Act.

SUSAN WATTS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWSEmma Murphy, of Cabrini Immigrant Services, is one of the people coordinating efforts to boost the number of New York’s undocumented immigrants enrolling in feds’ deferred action for childhood arrivals program.

The temporary status — which must be renewed every two years — doesn’t lead to a green card or citizenship, but allows young people to work legally and get a drivers license.

At the end of 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had approved 521,815 deferred action bids from young immigrants — 26,682 of them from New York state.

Those who got the status when it first became available are already gearing up to apply for a two-year renewal.

Tens of thousands will need to apply for renewals each month, starting in May, said Adam Luna, director of Own the Dream, an organization that works to help young immigrants apply and take advantage of the new status.

Luna’s group has set up a “DACA Renewal Network” to send out customized reminders and alerts via email and text message.

Elizabeth Plum, an outreach coordinator at the New York Immigration Coalition, wants to break down the misconceptions many young immigrants might have.

The feds haven’t released renewal forms yet, but applicants will likely need to submit paperwork no sooner than four months before their status expires, and no later than three months before, Luna said.

“Our goal is to ensure that as few people fall out of status as possible,” Luna said.

Even as renewals begin, estimates suggest that less than half of the young immigrants who potentially qualify have applied in the first place.

“I think there’s misinformation and misbranding. I think there’s fear. And that’s something that we can break down,” said Elizabeth Plum, outreach coordinator at umbrella group the New York Immigration Coalition.

College-bound teens who often learn about the program at school and university students or graduates have been the first to take advantage of it, Plum said — but it actually is open to a much wider population.

I think there’s misinformation and misbranding. I think there’s fear. And that’s something that we can break down.

Deferred action is for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before they were 16, were born on or after June 16, 1981, have lived here since June 15, 2007 and are either in school, have graduated or have a GED.

After an $18 million City Council grant, the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development and the New York Immigration Coalition are coordinating a special program to boost New York’s numbers — by funding adult education programs and legal service providers as well as making it possible for more than two dozen community groups, including Cabrini Immigrant Services, to run outreach programs.

They aim to find harder-to-reach immigrants who qualify.

Since last fall, the pilot program has enrolled about 2,000 young immigrants in classes and given legal help to 500, said Department of Youth and Community Development Deputy Commissioner Suzanne Lynn.

Each adult education class is open to immigrants within the right age range and will host briefings about the status, Lynn said. Organizers are hoping that about 20% of each class will end up qualifying and applying.

“The whole point of this initiative is to reach deeper into immigrant communities,” Lynn said.