Now that President Barack Obama has signed executive orders on immigration reform, advocates are working to educate those in the immigrant community about the options available to them and potential immigration scams.
"We're really trying to inform the community that nothing can be filed right now, and they shouldn't listen to any unscrupulous individuals that are saying that they can file applications for them at this point," said Rocio Alcantar, supervising attorney with the Heartland Alliance's Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).
Obama's two executive orders signed late last month cover approximately 4.9 million undocumented immigrants eligible for administrative relief.
Qualified undocumented parents of children with U.S. legal status who have resided in the country since January 1, 2010 will be shielded from deportation for three years under the president's plan. Among other reforms, Obama's administrative relief extends deferred action to additional undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, but were too old to qualify for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
As part of Obama's executive actions, eligible undocumented immigrants who pass a criminal background test and pay a fee will be allowed to work in the country legally. NIJC's fact sheet explaining the guidelines to qualify for administrative relief can be found here.
Some conservative Republicans, meanwhile, want to use the budgeting process to block Obama's immigration orders, a move that could provoke the second government shutdown in over a year, which House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want to avoid.
The current short-term continuing resolution that keeps the federal government operating expires on December 11, and lawmakers have to pass a spending bill by then to avert a government shutdown.
GOP leaders are currently scrambling to formulate their strategy on the budget and respond to the president's immigration actions.
If possible Republican efforts to thwart the immigration orders are unsuccessful, the application process for the expanded DACA program is expected to open in February of 2015. Those interested in applying for the deferred action for parents program can submit applications to the federal government starting in May of 2015. The application fee for both programs will be $465, according to NIJC, which provides comprehensive immigration services for immigrants.
NIJC is encouraging undocumented immigrants to talk with legitimate legal service providers and professionals "to determine if this form of administrative relief is appropriate for them" or if there are more permanent options available, Alcantar said.
Questions about legal screenings or Obama's administrative relief plan should be directed to reputable attorneys referred through the American Immigration Lawyers Association or accredited representatives at non-profits recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals, according to NIJC recommendations.
NIJC and Illinois Legal Aid Online launched a new website last month that allows people seeking immigration legal services to schedule a consultation appointment with NIJC's legal staff.
In preparation for next year's application process, advocacy groups recommend that undocumented immigrants who qualify for administrative relief start gathering necessary records and funds for the application process. Among other documents, interested applicants can begin to collect records showing proof of identify, family relationship and presence in the United States.
People looking to take advantage of Obama's executive actions should not sign any documents or pay anyone at this time for application services, advocates are warning.
"Applications are not being accepted yet--there is not even a form for applications yet," reads the administrative relief educational website of the Illinois is Ready campaign, spearheaded by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and other immigrant advocacy organizations. "DO NOT pay a 'notario' or anyone who claims to be able to help you apply 'now,' hold a place in line for you, or guarantee that you will be approved."
Isabel Anadon, a senior policy analyst at the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum, which is working with regional member organizations of its Immigration Acuerdo to inform the immigrant community about Obama's executive actions, said people should be aware of "malpractice around immigration law that may happen or is currently happening."
"If you do see that happening, either to yourself or others, ... report it," she stressed.
Immigration fraud can be reported to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office and the city of Chicago Department of Consumer Services, according to the NIJC's fact sheet on how to avoid and report immigration fraud. Anadon said immigration fraud can be reported anonymously.
Last week, NIJC kicked off a series of Monday evening and Saturday morning bilingual information sessions at its downtown Chicago office to discuss Obama's administrative relief plan. So far, many questions raised by attendees of the meetings have been about necessary documentation for applications, Alcantar said. Some people, however, have asked how prior removal orders in their immigration records might impact their eligibility.
Alcantar said that's an issue that needs further clarification from the Obama administration. However, "per the memos, it seems that the concerns are for individuals who have removal orders within this last year, and prior removal orders shouldn't impact their eligibility for admin relief," she said.
For the latest updates and information on Obama's executive actions and their implementation, people can visit the Illinois is Ready website. They can also call ICIRR's hotline at 855-435-7693.
Overall, Anadon stressed that the president's reforms are limited, and organizing work surrounding comprehensive immigration reform is far from finished.
"There's a lot of individuals that are going to be left out, and won't be able to take advantage of some of these benefits," she said. "We need to be continuing to ensure that we get relief for our entire community, but also looking towards Congress to really make some legislative fixes to the system."