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Setbacks pile up on immigrants as programs threatened

Federal changes mean immigration workers seeing more threats to clients

Published: July 27, 2017   
Aprille Hanson
Immigration specialist Dolores Requena (left) and Maricella Garcia, director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas Immigration Services in Little Rock, discuss the federal government’s 20-plus-years of backlogged applications.

Protections for undocumented immigrants in the United States took another step backward when Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly rescinded a memo June 15 that laid the groundwork to protect parents of U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR). It is one in a line of setbacks that have placed other immigration programs, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Temporary Protection Status, in jeopardy.

The 2014 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) memo from President Barack Obama was never implemented as complete protection for parents of citizens or LPRs, as it was challenged in federal court. The memo also looked to expand the DACA program. Rescinding the memo eliminated the possibility of fighting for the DAPA program in court. 

“The DAPA memo provided the framework for the prosecutorial discretion,” allowing parents of U.S. citizen or LPR children to stay under certain circumstances, said Maricella Garcia, director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas Immigration Services in Little Rock. “The cancellation of that means that the program isn’t going to exist.”

Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, said in a Catholic News Service article June 16 that 4 million parents of citizens or permanent residents across the U.S. are now at greater risk for deportation.

Just because a parent has a child that is a U.S. citizen does not mean they automatically have status, Garcia said, adding it’s a common misunderstanding. A U.S. citizen cannot apply for status for their parents until they are 21 years old and even with a citizen child, the parent may not qualify for LPR status. If they do qualify, the process is not expedited, but processed like any other status application. 

“They’re terrified, the parents … what will happen if we, the parents, are deported, what’s going to happen to our kids?” said Dolores Requena, an immigration specialist in Little Rock, said. She added that they recommend clients speak with an attorney. “They were doing powers of attorney in case the parent is detained. Just a simple example, who will pick up the kids from school?”



While past presidents have prioritized who can be deported, starting with serious criminals and minimizing the urgency to deport those who have committed no felonies, President Donald Trump and his administration have no categories. A church-going father who owns a business can be deported just as easily as a drug dealer. The Obama administration had more deportations than any other in history, Garcia said, but the issue now is “how they are being carried out with very little concern for the family.”

“I am 100 percent for detaining, arresting and deporting anybody that has committed these crimes because I don’t want them here next to me either. But that is not who are being picked up right now,” Garcia said.

Immigrants who have already gone to court after being caught at the border, picked up as undocumented or any immigration violation may have a prior order of deportation and in some cases the court has exercised discretion in allowing the person to remain in the U.S. as long as the individual checks in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely. However, there is no longer a hold on those orders and anyone who checks in, which is required, are being told to bring their passport because it is likely they will be deported, Garcia said. 

“The only way to understand it is that everybody here is a priority. It doesn’t matter if this person committed a crime because if they find me walking on the street, they’re going to arrest me and then worry about this later,” Garcia said, adding if ICE agents come to a home with a warrant for a certain individual “… they’re going to inspect everyone in the house to make sure they have status. Whereas before they’re coming on a warrant for this person, they’re just getting that person and taking him.”

Garcia said stories of deportations around the state have trickled in and Catholic Charities of Arkansas has received at least five times as many calls as last year regarding deportations. In the spring, a mother of five children, ranging in age from 5 to 16, was deported from Arkansas after a pharmacy flagged a written prescription for pain medicine after the woman’s doctor forgot to alert the pharmacy she’d be picking the medication up. She was arrested and taken to jail when ICE agents stepped in on a possible prior order. Despite the doctor testifying in court to say it was not an illegal prescription but merely an office error and the drug charge was dropped, she was deported by the time CCA was notified.

“That’s the problem for me. We’re diverting resources where we desperately need you to deport these people that are violent criminals, who have committed rapes, who committed robberies, who’ve committed homicides and we’re not putting all our efforts toward that,” Garcia said.



DACA is a federal program implemented by executive order by Obama in 2012 that protects young immigrants from deportation as long as they meet certain criteria, as outlined on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website,

  • Came to the U.S. when they were younger than 16
  • Were 30 years old or younger as of June 15, 2012
  • Have resided continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007
  • Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a general education development (GED) certificate
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors, and are not a threat to national security or public safety.

As of March, there are 787,580 undocumented immigrants under the protection of DACA.

For CCA in the first year and a half of DACA, the Little Rock and Springdale immigration offices filed more than 600 DACA applications. For the Little Rock office alone, as of July 18, CCA had served 476 DACA cases, including renewals. 

In an April Associated Press interview, Trump told Dreamers, recipients of DACA, to “rest easy” and not to fear deportation, contradicting his promise on the campaign trail to eliminate DACA.

On June 29, 11 state attorney generals, including Arkansas’ Leslie Rutledge, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatening to sue the federal government if President Donald Trump’s administration does not rescind the DACA program by Sept. 5.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration Committee, urged the Trump administration to “ensure permanent protection” for Dreamers, according to a July 19 Catholic News Service article. In May, more than 65 Catholic college presidents requested a meeting with Kelly after concern grew for DACA students on campus.

“DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities and leaders in our parishes,” Bishop Vasquez said in a July 18 statement. “These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.”

On July 12, Kelly spoke with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus behind closed doors, who said he explained that the courts would likely determine the legal sustainability of DACA. He said he personally supports the program, but his spokesman told reporters after the meeting when he declined questions, “This is what he’s being told by different attorneys, that if it goes to court it might not survive … they’re leaving it in the hands of the courts to make a decision,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told The Washington Post.

The Hispanic Caucus has urged Kelly to support the bipartisan BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow Our Economy) Act, which would save DACA and provide permanent benefits to Dreamers. The current DACA program does not provide legal status, but is supposed to allow employment authorization and safety from deportation.



CCA has traveled to some parishes throughout the state, explaining immigration rights and policies to Latinos, but Garcia admits, “We can’t tell anybody that they’re safe.”

“When I give consults one-on-one here, something I always tell them is — let’s be real, they drive; even though they’re not supposed to but they drive — if the speed limit is 30, go 29. Don’t call attention to yourself,” Requena said.

Every undocumented family needs to have an “open and honest conversation” with the children about their immigration status, Garcia said.

“It’s unfortunate to say this, but the kids need to know what is the issue,” she said.

CCA has spoken to one group of Anglos but would like to speak to more English-speaking Catholics in the parishes to dispel myths about immigration and why people do not just “get in line.”

For example, as of July, the government is just now processing F4 family-sponsored visa applications, those that are a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, that were filed before Aug. 1, 1997 for those from Mexico. For those from the Philippines, it’s those that were filed before Feb. 15, 1994.

“Some of them have been here this whole time, some of them have been waiting in their country,” Garcia said. 

Those who are deported often have to wait outside the U.S. for anywhere between five to 20 years before being able to apply for a waiver that could allow them to apply to return to the United States, if that option is even available to them.

Education is key, and Garcia said every parish needs to discuss this issue.

“I think that’s what people don’t understand — there are a lot of families being broken up, there are kids being left without their parents in a situation that is unnecessary,” Garcia said.

Parishes can contact Catholic Charities of Arkansas at (501) 664-0340 to ask to host an immigration workshop or information session. For more information about Catholic Charities Immigration Services in Little Rock and Springdale, visit

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