A support center for applicants to two deportation reprieve programs opened in south Minneapolis Wednesday, with a $50,000 grant from the city.
One problem: The federal programs are on hold, tied up in a court battle between the Obama administration and 26 Republican-led states.
But nonprofits Pillsbury United Communities and Advocates for Human Rights decided not to hold off on launching the center, housed at the Mercado Central grocery on Lake Street. And as other funders demurred amid the legal uncertainty, the city “stuck its neck out” by pitching in with the seed money, as the project’s manager, Felipe Illescas, put it.
“The uncertainty is real, but we don’t want to delay anything, because a court decision can happen at any time,” said Francisco Segovia of Pillsbury. “We’ll take some chances.”
Two more such centers are slated to open in Minneapolis later this year. An estimated 30,000 immigrants living in Minnesota illegally might benefit from the Obama programs, which would grant them three-year deportation stays and work permits.
In November, Obama announced that he was expanding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a 2012 program for immigrants who came to the United States as children. He also unveiled Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA, a program for parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, expected to affect more than 4 million people nationally.
In February, days before the government was to begin accepting expanded DACA applications, a Texas federal judge placed a temporary injunction on the programs. He found merit to state claims that the programs overstepped the president’s authority and would place a financial burden on the states. Since then, 14 states have come out in support of the Obama programs, arguing that they would boost tax revenues, among other benefits. Minnesota has remained neutral ahead of an April 17 court hearing.
Efforts by immigrant advocates and nonprofits to get the word out about the programs have continued despite the legal hang-up. Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano said the city decided that investing in the new support center was not a gamble.
“I don’t think this litigation is going to go anywhere,” she said.
The volunteer-staffed center will help would-be applicants ensure that they are eligible and compile the needed paperwork. It will also connect applicants and employers, encourage homeownership and cultivate activists to push for immigration reforms and other issues. The goal is to serve about 4,000 people over the next nine months.
At the Wednesday opening, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., praised organizers for going beyond simply providing legal assistance. Cano said she will fight to renew funding in next year’s city budget.
Georgina Hernandez, the mother of four children born in the United States and a center volunteer, was gearing up to apply for DAPA in May. Even after she found out about the judicial order, her family has continued to gather the proof they have lived in the United States longer than the minimum five years.
But, Hernandez said, the uncertainty surrounding DAPA has weighed on her.
“Some days I feel so down when I hear the news,” she said. “Then I talk to my husband and my friends, and they tell me, ‘You have to keep the spirit.’ ”