In Jersey City, fewer DACA applicants did not deter volunteers

Tireless DACA volunteers with lawyer Merit Salud (standing, 2nd from right)

By Jen Furer

In the heart of Jersey City, on September 22th, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Jersey City welcomed the DREAM Act youth, the lawyers and the volunteers who vowed to assist the youngsters legalize their status via the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative of President Obama.

Within the church’s hallowed halls, the staff from the Philippine Consulate, members of the National Association of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and lawyers and paralegals from the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (FALDEF) set up tables as the DREAMers and their families began trickling in. The clinic was organized through the Catholic Action of Mary.

Outside, the sun shone brightly while the cool breeze blew; it was a perfect Fall weather. But what made this day even more remarkable was that instead of welcoming the new season riding a bike or taking a stroll in a park, 15 volunteers chose to be in a church basement, patiently waiting for people who needed assistance. The volunteers were cheerful and showed eagerness. They paid no mind to what they were missing outside. They were committed to being there for the community from morning to afternoon.

Perhaps it was the weather or maybe there were other reasons but there were fewer than expected DACA applicants that day. It mattered little. This is not a numbers game. Volunteers were clear on what to expect and they committed to be present even for one person!

Most out-of-status immigrants commented that the turnout would have been bigger if the flyers and posters stated “assistance to illegal aliens or TNTs.” A parent of three DACA-eligible teens said there’s no PATH for DREAMs program in California. What the state has, he said, was plenty of scammers/lawyers who were offering assistance for a high legal fee.

The PATH for DREAMs program is an initiative of the Consulate, NaFFAA and FALDEF to assist applicants of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. A father came with inquiries regarding his children who live in another state. He was happy to know he had access to information and free assistance for them. A father and son came all the way from another state. Both looked extremely pleased as they gathered their paperwork ready for filing. Some only came to see and get a sense of what they needed in order to apply. The consulate used the opportunity to register them to the Overseas Absentee Voter Registration. Feeling empowered, the new registrants said they would now be able to voice their choice of leaders in the land of their birth.

As the day came to a close, the volunteers and lawyers pondered how it all turned out.

“The day was made more remarkable by the presence of volunteers,” summed up Merit Salud, NaFFAA Region 1 chairperson. “The brilliance and beauty of the American social tapestry and all the communities that made up this social weave is their propensity to assist one another in times of need, regardless of ethnicity or social status. FilAms made themselves available to serve others.”

Jen Furer is the author of ‘Out of Status,’ a memoir about her journey from the Philippines to the U.S. and the significant lessons learned along the way.

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