How Mexican consulates are helping Obama's immigration plan

The 50 Mexican consulates in the US are holding events to help Mexican nationals navigate President Obama's plan to defer deportation for nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants.

David Becker/Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP/File
Astrid Silva waits to renew her passport at the Mexican Consulate in Las Vegas in this 2012 file photo. Immigrants like her were targeted with President Obama's first immigration executive action in 2012. In November, Mr. Obama announced a new action with a wider impact.

On this day, Patricia Mejia and Doralinda Skidmore have come to the Sacred Heart Church here with one goal: to make President Obama’s executive action on immigration as successful as possible.

The two lawyers stand in front of about 200 people who hope to figure out how to take advantage of Mr. Obama’s plan to shield nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. They want to apply for a deferral, they want to be approved, and Ms. Mejia and Ms. Skidmore are here to help them – thanks to the Mexican Consulate.

Across the United States, all 50 Mexican consulates have set up special hotlines and public forums to guide people through an application process that has yet to begin. Data suggest that the president’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) could help the Mexican-American community, in particular. About 44 percent of Mexico-born people who lack legal US status could be eligible for the program, compared with 24 percent from other countries, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

To Ricardo Pineda Albarrán, Mexico’s consul in Tucson, Ariz., assisting Mexican nationals apply for DAPA is just another aspect of the consulates’ responsibilities. But critics see the consulates’ involvement as part of overall efforts by Mexico to influence US immigration policy.

"Rather than make reforms – political, economic and social reforms – in Mexico, they would rather have people leave Mexico, settle in the United States, and send back billions of dollars in remittances every year," says Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based group that promotes tighter immigration controls.

Other critics are not delighted by the Mexican consulates’ actions but say the responsibility ultimately lies with Obama.

"We believe that the president does not have the power, the authority, to issue work permits like this," says Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which favors reduced levels of immigration.

For their part, the consulates say they have been inundated with calls since the president announced his plan in November, and Mr. Pineda Albarrán just sees his consulate as meeting a need.

"When there is an announcement of this nature, the expectations of the community as a whole are very high because if it takes shape, it can have many benefits for a lot of people," he says.

At the event in Tucson, Mejia and Skidmore encouraged parents of children who were born here or are legal residents to start collecting documents that prove they have lived in the country since Jan. 1, 2010. Such law-abiding people who meet all other requirements will qualify for the deportation deferral, which will be granted in three-year increments.

Obama's move also expanded the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which grants a three-year reprieve for people who have lived in the country unlawfully since they were children. Both begin in the first half of 2015.

Consul Pineda Albarrán warned about illegal schemes that can accompany new immigration legislation. In the past, notary publics have been notorious for usurping immigration attorneys and defrauding clients. Consulates across the country will do everything they can to assist Mexican nationals so that as many people as possible can benefit from Obama's executive action, he told potential applicants.

Yet uncertainty hangs over their efforts. The possibility that Obama's plan could crumble weighs on the minds of many at the Tucson event. 

"The Republicans in Congress want to stop it, so I keep wondering if that will happen," says Marina Garcia, the mother of two US-born children.

She and her husband lack legal status, but after a decade of living and working in the country surreptitiously, paying taxes, and staying within the law, Ms. Garcia believes the two may be eligible for the program, which not only defers deportation but grants, work permits and Social Security cards. Still, she feels a bit uneasy.

"Could Congress do away with the executive action? she wonders. "Or if we qualify for it, could we lose everything after the president leaves office?"

The lawyers at the event said they can’t fully quell those concerns. "We are not 100 percent certain that this is going to last more than three years, we don't know," Skidmore told forum attendees.

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