Camaraderie, trust and fear in first DACA clinic

Volunteers and DREAMers share bonds of trust and confidentiality. Photo by Hector Logronio

By Jen Furer and Marie Aunio

It was a gathering of lawyers, volunteers and DREAMers accompanied by their parents or guardians. The Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center became the venue for the August 24 initial consultation between lawyers and DREAM Act students seeking to legalize their status — a venue which, according to consulate officials, provided a haven of “safety and confidentiality.”

An hour before the immigration clinic devoted to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was to begin, many DREAMers had filled the hall. About 20 applicants, accompanied by their siblings or parents had forged a camaraderie — their status bringing them together in a state of hopefulness and anxiety.

Area One was the first point of contact for the applicants and their parents. The families were warmly welcomed by four women – known as ‘titas’ or aunties – who are veterans of the outreach programs of the Filipino American Legal and Education Defense Fund (Faldef) and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) whose lawyers volunteered to assist in the consultation process. The applicants’ contact information was logged in, and copies of various forms and check lists were provided. The families were reminded to “ask the volunteers and lawyers of any questions and uncertainties.”

Faldef President J.T. Mallonga opened with a short briefing for the volunteers. He emphasized the importance of double-checking the requirements, explaining the risks of applying, highlighting the necessity of the meticulous process and conveying to the applicant that the assistance being provided is not a guarantee that the application will be approved. He stressed that Faldef would always be available for further assistance.

The volunteers came from all walks of life: Lawyers and paralegals from Manhattan law firms; a principal from a Catholic school; workers in non-for-profit centers in Brooklyn; and a financial professional from Morgan Stanley were just some of them. They came that Friday night, never having been to any such immigration clinic before, yet ready to assist ‘kababayan’ and other nationalities for three hours of consultations.

In all, there were four different nationalities, about nine types of professions, four languages, two dialects and an age range from 23 to 60 years old in the volunteer community. Like a symphony orchestra, all 15 of them came together beautifully as they officially launched the first of many more Path for DREAMs Program events. The program is an initiative of the Philippine Consulate under Consul General Mario de Leon, Faldef and NaFFAA.

In the waiting area, most of the DREAMers shared stories of how their families’ salaries and savings practically all went to lawyers’ fees in the hope they could get a “green card.”

“I’ve been waiting for something like this in a very long time,” a 22-year-old DREAMer confided as he waited for his turn. “I wish there’s an amnesty so that my parents and my younger sister can be legal, too. I already completed two years of college and my family’s been here for over 10 years. I just wanted to be able to work so that my parents can go on vacation – and of course, to be able to come back and stay legally.”

At Area Two, each applicant — together with a parents or sibling — sat down with a volunteer and a lawyer who assisted in going through the eligibility check list. In a few occasions, lawyers in different tables consulted with fellow attorneys in order to provide the utmost legal assistance.

The room was filled with respect, faith, trust, knowledge, confidence and camaraderie of a community coming together to help the young DREAMers. In the safety and confidentiality of the room, the DREAMers shared their fears, heartache and longing. They hoped against hope they would get that “yes” at the end. To some that was the case. For others, it was not such an easy “yes.”

When every question in the application was answered, the applicant returned to Area One to submit the in-take paperwork for file, and was then advised to call the Faldef office before officially submitting the application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

The event ended before 8 p.m.

Asked what he thought of the first DACA clinic, Mallonga said, “It’s not what I think that matters, it’s what the volunteers, the DREAMers and their families thought we did – that’s what’s important.”

“Path For DREAMs Program, at least, serves as a safety net to turn to and get further assistance in what’s next for the applicants. They at least now know there is place where money is not the motivation to serve them. They at least now know that they are not alone navigating the shark-infested waters of corrupt, greedy lawyers and a legal system that has chosen to forget their humanity,” said Marie Aunio, Faldef’s special assistant to the president.

“It was a successful outreach. At the exit interview, the mothers were appreciative that their questions and concerns were honestly answered, no empty promises,” said one of the volunteers.

“It is an indelible proof of what we could do as a community. Indeed, together, nothing is beyond our reach. It was indeed an auspicious start and proof that together, we could do it,” came Salud’s comment.

A second Path for DREAMS clinic is scheduled on September 22nd at Jersey City sponsored by the Catholic Action of Mary.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: