In the six months since a new law opened a path to temporary legal status for some young immigrants in the U.S., more than 300,000 people have applied — and have rushed to request qualifying documents from their schools.
The law, Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, offers legal status, renewable every two years, to people ages 30 and younger who were brought to the country as children. Applicants must prove they were in the U.S. for five consecutive years — something most easily achieved through school transcripts.
Crowds formed in San Diego when DACA-eligible families started arriving with transcript requests, says Bea Fernandez with the San Diego Unified School District.
"The school district opens up, and you have 80 people there with children, and waiting in line and requesting documents," she says. "And it started happening on a daily basis — sometimes as early as 5:30 — coming from out of town."
Streamlining By Centralizing Requests
After several days of long lines, the district opened a DACA office at the district's Ballard Parent Center to expedite transcript requests.
Fernandez, who runs the office, says eager parents still come in daily, armed with an incredible amount of supporting documentation.
"You'd be surprised how many families come here with their little folders of every report card or award that their child has received," Fernandez says.
The office was originally slated to close in December but due to strong demand, Fernandez says, it will remain open well into the new year.
The Los Angeles Unified School District — the second-largest public school system in the country — faced the same problem on a much larger scale.
Lydia Ramos, assistant to Superintendent John Deasy, says the system has the largest DACA-eligible population in the country. School officials knew the paperwork demands would take a toll at the individual school level, she says, particularly "in an environment where, in California, our schools have been ravaged by the budget cuts over the last four years."
To take the burden off individual schools, district officials chose to provide transcripts from its back-up data stored at headquarters, Ramos says.
That data shows a student's academic history with attached home addresses — vital for satisfying the law's residency requirement. The system reduced waiting time from weeks to mere days.
An Opportunity — But A Financial Burden
But even with these efforts to streamline requests in Los Angeles and San Diego, 4 out of 5 DACA-eligible young immigrants in California aren't applying.
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, director of communications for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, says expense is a huge barrier. Just as it costs money to apply for a passport, there are costs associated with DACA credentials. Cabrera says the $465 fee for each DACA application is a daunting amount for poor families to pay.
"Families have to make a tough decision between applying for deferred action, which will help someone come out of the shadows, or pay for rent," Cabrera says. "It's literally that serious of an issue."
The burden is compounded for the many families who have more than one young child who is DACA-eligible.