County Supervisors Expand Health Care For Undocumented Immigrants



By Melvin Willis | Photo courtesy: Anthony Wright

Contra Costa County supervisors voted 4-1 on Sept. 22 to enact a new pilot program that — pending matching funds from local hospitals — would provide health care coverage to potentially thousands of undocumented immigrants for the next year.

An estimated 19,000 Contra Costa County residents remain without health coverage despite President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. Now Contra Costa County, like San Francisco and Los Angeles counties before it, will narrow this gap with a program designed to cover an additional 3,000 adults, regardless of their immigration status.

County supervisors designated $500,000 to launch the program this coming November, with similar matching funds expected to come from area hosiptals. The program intends to provide basic, preventative and non-emergency care to uninsured adults for a year.

Lydia Arizmendi, a 52-year-old Richmond resident and member of the community group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, is one of them.

“I have not been able to get checked out by a doctor because the out-of-pocket costs at the clinic are too expensive,” said Arizmendi, who has been living with diabetes and kidney pain for more than a year.

Arizmendi works as a janitor, cleaning fast-food restaurants. She said that some days her pain from diabetes becomes so bad that she can’t get out of bed to go to work. But because of her undocumented status, she can’t receive the care she needs, and remains afraid that she could end up in an emergency room or lose her life to a preventable illness.

“Health care for all means that I could benefit from regular doctor visits,” she said. “With my condition, that could mean the difference between maintaining my health or a costly emergency visit that I’m afraid would be a huge burden on me and my family.”

The new pilot program will be available to Contra Costa County residents 18 and older who remain uninsured and not eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal or the Covered California exchange created through Obamacare. Household annual income must not exceed 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,105 for an individual; $32,913 for a family of four).

Four participating community health centers — La Clinica de la Raza, LifeLong Medical Care, Axis Health and Brighter Beginnings — would provide primary care services to participants. Planned Parenthood of Northern California would also provide limited services.

Health care advocates argue that lack of coverage doesn’t only hurt people’s health; it can also hurt California’s economy. A 2009 Center for American Progress report found that lack of insurance cost the California economy between $18.3 and $36.7 billion in lost productivity that year.

Support for providing health care, regardless of immigration status, has also grown in recent years. According to a recent Field Poll, 58 percent of registered voters think California should provide Medi-Cal to all undocumented immigrants.

“Today was a huge victory in bridging the gap of health equity in Contra Costa County,” said Alvaro Fuentes, executive director of the Community Clinic Consortium, which represents community health centers in Contra Costa County. “The vote today echoes the voices of thousands of individuals — locally and statewide — committed to improving the health of their communities by ensuring that everyone has access to quality and affordable health care.”

Melvin Willis is an organizer with ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment)

How a Dreamer Fell Through The Cracks

 Photo by Andres Reyes

If someone asked me what the proudest moment of my life has been, without a doubt I’d say the moment I received an acceptance letter from UC Davis. I vividly recall sprinting to the garage to tell my parents the big news. Two years later, I found myself back home in Merced, deep in student debt and without a degree, reflecting on where it all went wrong.

I was born in Mexico and came to this country when I was two years old. I am part of the generation known as Dreamers, undocumented students who were brought to this country by their parents at a young age. As I got closer to graduating high school, I was very aware that I would not be able to get financial aid and that my options for paying for higher education were very limited.

I was a good student at Golden Valley High School in Merced and received high grades in most of my classes, graduating with a 3.8 cumulative GPA. My worry was not as much that I wouldn’t get accepted to college, but that I wouldn’t be able to pay for it. My parents told me not to worry and just apply. A few teachers and counselors assured me that there are always opportunities. Thanks to the passage of the Dream Act in 2011, I could now receive financial aid.

But I found myself caught in a grey area. I got accepted into UC Davis in the fall of 2012 but the Dream Act, which allowed me to receive state financial aid, did not go into effect until January 2013. This meant I had to pay a quarter’s worth of studies out of my own pocket.

I applied for scholarship after scholarship and wrote essay after essay. It was an effort that took up a lot of my time, but it was worth it because I won enough local scholarships to pay for the complete tuition for the first quarter.

Everything at UC Davis started out well: I met new people, maintained decent grades, and was generally positive about the new experience of college. However, unbeknownst to me, my personal foundation began to crack during my first quarter and it was only a matter of time until the problems that were piled up spilled over.

I didn’t take into account the cost of living in Davis and had only enough money to pay for my tuition. I had to start relying on my parents for food and rent, knowing very well that my dad, a low-income construction laborer, already had to care for my three younger siblings. Knowing that I was spending money that my family needed weighed down on my shoulders but I tried to ignore it.

An added stressor was choosing a major. At first I wanted to study English, then neuroscience, and then something else and so on. Different majors kept grabbing my attention and I took courses I later regretted.

I was in social isolation as well. I made some superficial friendships but nothing real. I considered joining clubs to get out of my comfort zone but never committed to it, always telling myself that I should focus on what I was there to do––pass my classes.

By the second quarter, the stress began to take a toll. I was finally receiving financial aid, which helped, but my personal expenses still remained an issue. Rent checks began to bounce and despite my father’s attempts to reassure me that we would solve the problem, I could not help but worry. My grades started to suffer in some classes and it made me more negative, beginning a cycle of isolation and stress. I was often triggered by the fear of failure and loneliness.

I isolated myself even further. Leaving my apartment felt like a chore and all I wanted to do was remain within the sanctuary of my home. This mentality was self-destructive and earned me a meeting at the probation office because my grades had put me in academic risk.

When I entered the counselor’s office, I shared all my troubles with her and confessed to being on the brink of depression. She asked if I felt better and I said yes. She made me sign a form that said we had discussed this and told me that if I ever felt the same way again, I should go seek more counseling at student health services. It felt great to share my struggle with someone and I left feeling like I was ready to handle my business.

My third quarter started and I was trying my best to recover academically. Somewhere down the road, I cracked. My grades declined sharply. I started skipping some classes and I completely isolated myself from everyone. I’m not sure what made me slip, but once I slipped I never got back up.

My mother noticed I started calling less and less, but I assured her that everything was ok. It may be because of the culture I grew up in, but I never felt comfortable to share my personal problems. I’ve always kept those to myself and that remained true in those months.

I was in denial about my situation– I sometimes considered seeking help like the probation counselor had recommended, but I never went through with it. I think it was because of the stigma I felt around depression. My grades were at an all time low and I decided to drop out.

After the quarter was over, I had to tell my parents what happened. It wasn’t easy but my silence could not continue. Their reaction was supportive, but I could still feel the disappointment lying under the surface. I wanted them to shout, but they didn’t. They were good listeners and it was probably the most honest conversation I’ve ever had with them. I told them all the problems that I had until then kept to myself. It was a vulnerable moment that I needed in order to start my road to recovery

The UC Davis administration informed that I had to return my financial aid for that last spring quarter because of my academic performance. I owed them about $3000 that I did not have. Until I pay them back, my registration remains on hold and I cannot attend a UC school.

I feel responsible and I’m committed to paying my debt in full. I decided to move back to Merced and attend community college until I saved enough to pay back my debt and could return to a UC. However, finding a job in Merced that will work with a college schedule is difficult and my debt weighs down on me constantly.

I was initially cynical about attending community college, thinking I was downgrading from UC Davis, but it’s been a great experience so far. Rather than remain in solitude, I made the decision to join Movimento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan upon enrolling, a club that focuses on empowering Chicanos known as MEChA, and I have benefited greatly from it. My self-esteem has slowly climbed back up and my grades have improved as well.

I’ve decided to study economics and I want to use that to do something to help poor working class families, like mine. After one year, I became the president of the MEChA and I also joined student government. I want to use this momentum to land me back on track and continue my studies at a UC.

I now admit that I was naïve when I was at Davis. I was young, which is a strange thing to say considering that I’m only three years older now. I didn’t realize the weight I was carrying or how much it would wear me down. I felt pressured and feared failure above everything. I was afraid of not being able to afford college and was afraid of being alone.

I feel like more regular sessions with the academic counselor or some other kind of support would have helped me stay grounded in the long run. A one-time visit provided relief momentarily but looking back, I can see now how that just wasn’t enough for me.

Now that I’m back in Merced, I have been challenging myself to leave my comfort zone and I feel that I have matured a lot over these past couple of years. Being at home with the moral support of family and friends has made this easier for me.

Being smart isn’t the only ingredient for college success. Having enough financial aid isn’t the only factor either. Succeeding in college, like in any other part of life, relies on the right combination of many ingredients. And one of those ingredients is knowing when to reach out for help–so you don’t slip through the cracks, as I did.

Immigration Relief Increasing Health Coverage; CA Kids Eligible Now


News Report, Anna Challet | New America Media

In California, hundreds of thousands of kids in immigrant families are eligible for Medi-Cal but not enrolled, according to a new study from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Some of them are kids who have undocumented parents, but who are themselves citizens or lawfully residing. Some of them are eligible for the DACA program but haven’t applied (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows some undocumented individuals who came to United States as children to qualify for work permits and deportation relief). In California, if you qualify for DACA, you qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

So even though broader immigration relief is still on hold, for many families in California there’s no reason to wait for health coverage.

“As we wait for immigration reform to take effect, there’s still a number of kids in immigrant families in California that are eligible for coverage now,” says Sonya Schwartz, a research fellow at Georgetown and one of the authors of the study. “There’s up to about 400,000 kids who are eligible right now who we could be enrolling in programs.”

According to the report, over 200,000 youth could gain state-funded Medi-Cal if they sign up for the DACA program and are low-income. And another 223,000 citizen and lawfully residing children whose parents are undocumented could be signed up for Medi-Cal now.

There are a variety of reasons why kids in the latter group might not be signed up already, says Schwartz.

“Immigrant families have additional barriers to getting into programs that others don’t necessarily face,” she says. “There can be fears about immigration status and information you have to share about yourself, even though there are protections for parents who don’t want to share personal information.”

“There are so many citizen kids and lawfully residing kids who are living with immigrant parents, and they’re just hard to reach because parents are busy working two jobs, they’re not necessarily native English speakers, they might not know what’s available,” she adds. “Or you might have a family where there’s an older child who is undocumented who was born abroad, and then kids born here after that who are eligible for coverage, and parents may not want to just enroll one.”

An additional 170,000 undocumented children will become eligible for Medi-Cal as early as May 2016. Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown announced a budget allocation that will provide health coverage for all of the state’s kids in low-income families, regardless of immigration status.

What’s still uncertain is the future of immigration programs for children and families created by President Obama’s executive action in November 2014. A new program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), stands to allow some 600,000 immigrant parents in California to gain work permits and deportation relief – and they’ll qualify for Medi-Cal if they meet the income requirements.

Schwartz says that parents getting immigration relief makes them more likely to obtain health coverage for their children, because they don’t fear exposing their status.

The executive action also expanded the DACA program by removing the age cap. Schwartz’s study estimates that some 55,000 individuals who will qualify for expanded DACA are uninsured and will likely qualify for Medi-Cal.

The programs are on hold, though. A judge in Texas put in place a preliminary injunction that stopped their implementation, and a resolution won’t come until next year.

All told, over a million Californians could gain access to coverage if and when immigration relief goes into effect.

“Four hundred thousand kids in California could be eligible now for coverage, and then another 170,000 more kids in May, and then hundreds of thousands of parents and older kids when immigration reforms make their way through the courts,” says Schwartz. “It’s huge.”

Undocumented Kids to Get Health Coverage in State Budget

Calling it one of the “best” budgets the state has ever had, California Gov. Jerry Brown said the $167.6 billion dollar budget the legislature passed Tuesday would pump more money into child care and education, pay down the state’s debt by $1.9 billion and provide health care for its undocumented children.

“This is just one step and we need to do more,” Brown said during a press conference, referring to the $40 million budgetary allocation for providing health insurance to an estimated 170,000 undocumented children in the state  through Medi-Cal – California’s name for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

A jubilant Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, called the $40 million allocation a “modest investment in health care that will be transformational in the lives of not only children,” but also their families and the community as a whole.

He noted that the budget deal “affirms our commitment to embrace and integrate our immigrant community, to lead where the federal government has failed and to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars” to the state’s economy.

“This expansion of coverage to all children regardless of immigration status would make California’s children healthier, our health system stronger, and our families and communities more financially secure,” asserted Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.

Lara’s own Health for All bill (SB 4) will provide health insurance for all Californians regardless of their immigration status. It is now before the Assembly, after it cleared the Senate last month. If it is signed into law, California would be the first state in the country to provide state-funded health insurance to its undocumented residents.

The original intent of SB 4 was to provide health care for the state’s nearly 1.5 million undocumented residents, both adults and children, either through Medi-Cal or by allowing them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange. But the state must first seek a waiver from the federal government to allow them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange, Covered California. The Affordable Care Act prevents undocumented U.S. residents from any federally funded health insurance program. The waiver will be sought if SB 4 passes.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and University of California in Los Angeles, expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented California residents, under Lara’s bill,  would  have cost the state between $353 and $369 million annually, representing a 2 percent increase from what it currently spends. But now that the state has approved $40 million in its budget to provide insurance for its undocumented children, the Medi-Cal cost in Lara’s bill will go down.

“It would also provide the momentum for SB 4 to move forward,” Wright said.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who participated alongside the governor in the press conference and had backed SB 4 since it was introduced in the Senate late last year, said Washington’s inaction has caused “financial consequences throughout the country.”

Lara’s bill, he said, will send a “very strong message” to lawmakers in Washington who have “dithered” on immigration reform.

The governor’s remark that more needs to be done, including how to address the low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates – among the lowest in the nation — will be discussed in a special session in a few weeks.

Brown said that his office would be hiring an immigration coordinator to assist youth who have been granted temporary relief from deportation under President Obama’s executive action of 2012. One million more California residents could become eligible for deportation relief if the federal courts allow Obama’s 2014 executive action to move forward.

California Farmworker: Picking Peas Should Bring a Better Life

Editor”s note
: In this last installment in a three part series on California farmworkers by NAM contributor, David Bacon, an undocumented Triqui Indian farmworker in Greenfield, Ca., speaks of poverty and health problems as the result of long hours working in the fields. Her story, as told to Bacon, helps contextualize the struggles of many farmworkers in California who are working at a time of the drought and dwindling jobs availabilities, and without health care.

I’m Triqui, from Rio Venado in Oaxaca. I’ve been here 7 years, working in the fields all the time. Right now I’m picking peas. Other times in the year I work in the broccoli.

The worst part about working in the peas is that you have to work on your knees. After a day on your knees they hurt a lot, and when you stop it’s hard to extend your leg. It hurts, even when they give you a break for 15 minutes every two hours. I don’t take pills for the pain, but I know many people who do.

Sometimes your knees break down. That’s happened to a lot of people. Their knees go out permanently and they can’t work anymore.

Another problem is the dust, which has chemicals in it. Until two years ago they didn’t give you glasses to keep the dust out. Now they do, but by now most people who work in the peas have problems with their eyes.

What they pay us is not fair. They want you to pick 130 pounds in ten hours, and the piece rate is 45¢, so we make very little. The hourly wage is supposed to be $9.50 per hour, but when you’re working on the piece rate it’s less. You can make $100 in a day sometimes, but other times it’s $80 or $70. It depends on how much you can pick.

I have a family I have to support. There are six of us — myself and my husband, and our four children. These wages aren’t enough. We live in an apartment and have to pay rent, electricity and food. The little they pay us doesn’t cover it.

It’s a disaster if anyone gets sick because we don’t have any insurance. If it’s not really bad we don’t go to the doctor. But if it’s really serious we have to, and then we end up owing a lot of money. We’re just now recovering from the last time we had to do this. We had to take one of the kids and didn’t have the money to pay.

Normally we get six months every year when we can work all the time. Other times work is hard to find. A paycheck for a week is $300, or even $100. When the work is good we try to save a little for the times when work slows down.

The majority of the people in my crew are Triqui. There are also Mixtecos, and people who speak Spanish. Almost everyone is indigenous.

The Triqui people don’t agree with the low wages. We want a salary that our work deserves. The boss now says they have a water crisis, but I really think he says this to intimidate us. When we complain about the wages they tell us, “If you want to work, there’s the work, and if you don’t, so what?” What can we do?

If people get together and demand more, I think things could change. But instead we stay quiet. Many of my coworkers are afraid they’ll lose their jobs.

I heard about what was happening in San Quintin on Facebook [when thousands of indigenous Triqui and Mixtec farm workers went on strike in Baja California this spring]. I worked down there for a number of years, picking tomatoes. They paid really low there. I think what they did there was really good. They tried to do something for themselves.

We agree with what they did. We come from the same towns. We’re brothers. We are the same community. We are indigenous people, and we have to do whatever we can to keep our children eating, no matter what they pay. But if we don’t work and harvest the crops, there’s nothing for the growers either.

We are thinking of doing something like they did in San Quintin. What we demand from the growers is that they recognize that just as we work for them they should work for us. Things should be more equal between us.

I’m going to keep working in the fields, because I have no other work. But I don’t want my children to work in the fields. We’re doing it so that our children can leave the fields and move forward. I want to give them a better life.

See part I and II here: 

Thousands of Farmworkers in California Can’t Make a Living

Triqui Farmworkers Struggle to Survive and Organize in California

Activists Call on Immigrant Communities to Keep Applying for DACA

“When others were worrying about what major to choose and which class to take, I had to worry about where my parents and I could stay in the United States. When others were nervous about their transfer applications, I received my deportation date,” says Siti.

Originally from Indonesia, she came to the United States with her family as a child. She was facing possible deportation when she found out she could qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal program implemented in 2012 that allows certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to receive temporary relief from deportation, as well as work permits.

After qualifying for DACA, Siti was able to travel to Indonesia last summer to visit her ill grandmother under a special permit given to DACA beneficiaries. But her father, who is also undocumented, couldn’t see his mother before she died. “He had to go through the pain while watching his mother’s funeral through Skype, a video call. This is why I continue to fight, ” Siti says.

Although over 600,000 undocumented young people have enrolled in the DACA program, many who are eligible have still not applied for the program and continue to live in fear.

Siti joined East Bay leaders and community groups at a press conference here last week promoting a free immigration resource fair on April 4 to inform undocumented individuals of programs they may qualify for, like DACA and driver’s licenses.

“We hope undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows and get to know that they are eligible for a fearless life,” said Emily Park, a community health specialist from Asian Health Services in Oakland.

President Obama’s executive action on immigration, announced last November, would expand the DACA program by removing the age cap (applicants currently have to be under the age of 31), and would create another program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would provide deportation relief to parents who have children who are citizens or have green cards.

The action was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Texas. The U.S. Department of Justice is appealing the ruling and a hearing is scheduled for April 17.

But, eligible immigrants can still apply for or renew their DACA status under the original 2012 DACA program, and advocates are urging families to be ready to apply for the DAPA program as well as the expanded DACA program.

Another undocumented student, Denize Sanchez, spoke along with Siti. Sanchez is also a DACA beneficiary and now works as a youth educator at La Familia Counseling Service in Hayward.

When Sanchez was a child, she did not understand what her immigration status meant. She just knew that she was not supposed to tell anybody, for fear that she would be separated from her family.

It wasn’t until her senior year of high school, when she and her peers were filling out college applications, that she learned what it meant to be undocumented.

“When the application asked us for a Social Security number, I felt too embarrassed to ask, so I just sat there quietly, pretending like I was filling out the application. And I waited until everyone left so that I could ask my counselor what I should put there if I didn’t have one,” she said.

“But in 2012, when President Obama announced DACA, it kind of changed my life for the better,” she said. She qualified for the program and was able to get a work permit, and now she is educating other young people on becoming leaders in their communities.

The Immigration Resource Fair will be on Saturday, April 4, from 10AM to 6PM, at the East Bay Community Foundation (200 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland). There will be legal resources specializing in the DACA/DAPA process, a health insurance benefits intake, and information on applying for driver’s licenses.



Uncle Sam Wants DACA Recipients to Avoid Tax Scams

DACA recipient Ana Alcantara, 22, was misinformed by her tax preparer and ended up paying an unnecessary penalty.

DACA recipient Ana Alcantara, 22, was misinformed by her tax preparer and ended up paying an unnecessary penalty.

A new scam targeting immigrants has gotten the attention of Uncle Sam.

Health advocates are concerned that tax preparers have been misinforming, and some even outright scamming, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries by making them pay a penalty for not having health insurance. On Wednesday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a statement clarifying that there is no such penalty for undocumented immigrants or for DACA recipients. DACA is a program announced by President Obama in 2012 that gives temporary protection against deportation to undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children.

“Advocates have been asking [the Obama administration] for a month to provide [tax preparers] some clarity,” said Angel Padilla, a health policy analyst at the Washington, D.C. office of the National Immigration Law Center. Up until now, he said, “there was not something official we [had that we] could point to from IRS that makes this clear. Now we do.”

The IRS website now reflects the clarity that advocates have been pressuring it to spell out:Individuals who are not U.S. citizens or nationals and are not lawfully present in the United States are exempt from the individual shared responsibility provision. For this purpose, an immigrant with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status is considered not lawfully present and therefore is eligible for this exemption. An individual may qualify for this exemption even if he or she has a social security number (SSN).

The confusion arises from a policy under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires nearly all Americans to have some form of health insurance, or face a penalty. That coverage could come from job-based insurance; an individual health plan bought through government-run health care exchanges or elsewhere; Medicaid (known as Medi-Cal in California), a government-funded health insurance program for low-income people; or Medicare, a health insurance program for those who are over 65 or have a disability.

For 2014, the first year the policy went into effect, the penalty for failing to get such coverage was $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of taxable household income, whichever was greater. The penalty will increase in subsequent years.

But the requirement to have health insurance does not extend to undocumented immigrants or DACA beneficiaries. That’s because they are not lawful residents. DACA is only a benefit eligibility category, not an immigration status.

It is a distinction that neither the Department of Health and Human Services nor the Internal Revenue Service made clear on their websites until now, Padilla said.

“That lack of clarity trickled down to tax preparers,” he said.

Brenda Ordaz, a representative of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and a health navigator for the state’s health insurance marketplace, has seen the confusion first hand. A DACA recipient herself, Ordaz says other DACA recipients have been coming to her, asking why their tax preparers were making them pay penalties for not having health insurance.

She said one tax preparer asked a DACA client to pay her the penalty directly and in cash, rather than asking the IRS to deduct it from his refund.

“I’m sure some preparers are doing this to undocumented people as well,” Ordaz said.

Los Angeles resident and DACA beneficiary Ana Alcantara, 22, says her tax preparer told her she had to pay the penalty when he discovered she didn’t have health insurance. She reluctantly agreed to have the $95 deducted from her nearly $850 tax refund.

Alcantara didn’t know she was exempt from the requirement. She also didn’t know that she could have enrolled in California’s state-funded Medi-Cal program as soon as she received DACA in 2013. Even though DACA recipients are banned from accessing any federal programs, they qualify for state-funded Medi-Cal – something that many aren’t aware of.

Meanwhile, tax preparers themselves say they don’t always know if their client is a DACA recipient. One tax preparer acknowledged that she had filed tax returns for a number of clients that included the penalty because they had failed to tell her that they were DACA beneficiaries.

“It’s hard to know because a lot of clients don’t open up,” explained Azucena Lopez, co-owner of Gonzales Tax Services in Madera, Calif. She said she had assumed they were lawful residents when they told her they had a work permit and social security number.

Since she became aware that her clients were DACA recipients — and were exempt from the penalty — Lopez says she has been filing amended tax returns. Alcantara’s tax preparer also has agreed to file an amendment so Alcantara can get her $95 back.

Read more about health care and DACA on the National Immigration Law Center’s website,

Why Immigrant Rights Advocates Aren’t Worried About Texas Judge’s Ruling

News Report, Elena Shore | New America Media Posted: Feb 18, 2015

A federal judge this week blocked Obama’s executive actions from going into effect, a move immigration reform advocates are calling only a “temporary setback.”

Texas U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issued a temporary injunction on Monday, siding with Texas and 25 other states that signed on to a lawsuit against Obama’s executive actions on immigration. The White House announced on Tuesday that the Department of Justice is appealing the decision.

The judge’s ruling was released just two days before the expanded version of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was slated to go into effect.

It means that — until the ruling is blocked or overturned by a higher court — individuals will not be able to apply for the new programs announced by President Obama on Nov. 20, 2014. These include the expanded version of DACA, which was slated to start Wednesday, and the new program for parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which was expected to start in May.

Together the programs could protect over 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and provide them with temporary work authorization.

Monday’s ruling does not affect so-called Dreamers, who can still apply for (and renew) DACA under the program that was announced in 2012.

The chess game

The federal lawsuit in Texas is the latest move in a broader political chess match now being played out between Republicans and Democrats over the president’s recent steps on immigration reform.

Since Obama’s announcement in November, Republicans have attempted to block his initiatives in Congress. But the legislation has not gotten passed the Senate (and even if it did, it would be vetoed by the president).

That left one pathway for the GOP to challenge Obama’s executive actions: through the courts.

“As they did in the health care fight, when they were unable to block the Affordable Care Act’s implementation through legislation, Republicans have turned to the courts to resolve what really amounts to a political dispute over policy,” Marshall Fitz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, told reporters on a national press call hosted Tuesday by New America Media.

“Make no mistake,” said Fitz. “This is a partisan political attack disguised as a lawsuit.”

The plaintiffs “sought this judge out” because, Fitz said, he has “a history of highly antagonistic, over-reaching, really extremist, anti-immigrant decisions.”

“They went judge shopping, they found their judge, they got the decision they wanted,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, in Washington, D.C. “But reading through the decision, it is poorly argued, [rests on a] very weak basis, and it is clearly a politicized decision that is not going to survive appeals up through the court system.”

The case is expected to go next to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel known for its conservative bent. After that, the case would go to a full U.S. court of appeals and even potentially all the way to the Supreme Court.

“The wheels of justice are slow,” said Fitz, “but at the end of the track, we will have confirmed legality and the program will be implemented.”

Immigration advocates have several reasons to be confident.

“The fact is that the Obama administration has an airtight legal case,” said Sharry. “Every president since President Eisenhower in the 1950s has used executive authority in the area of immigration policy to do similar things.”

“We have the law on our side, legal precedent, historical precedent,” said Sharry, “and when a judge makes a decision in the future — hopefully in the coming days or weeks — based on the law, we are confident that expanded DACA and DAPA will be able to go into effect.”

The real danger is fear

Immigration reform advocates say they are confident that the judge’s decision will be reversed. Far more worrisome, they said, is the fear that it could generate among immigrant communities in the meantime.

“Part of the Republican strategy here is to introduce elements of uncertainty and controversy around this program in hopes that when it does go into effect, fewer people will sign up,” said Sharry of America’s Voice.

He cautioned immigrant communities “not to fall for this.”

Some immigrants are hesitant to apply for a program that is temporary, he said, because they are afraid that their information might be used to deport them if the program were ever overturned. But Sharry said these fears are overblown. “In my 30 years of working on immigration policy,” he said, “I’ve never seen a temporary program taken away in a way that subjects people who’ve come forward to deportation.”

What you can do now

Although they can’t apply for the new programs yet, undocumented immigrants can start getting their documents together.

“We really want to emphasize the message to immigrants, their friends and families, to not despair, that everyone should continue to prepare, that people can get ready to apply for the programs as soon as this block is lifted,” said Shiu-Ming Cheer, immigration attorney at National Immigration Law Center based in Los Angeles.

Cheer encouraged immigrants to continue to save money (the application fee for DACA and DAPA will be $465) and gather evidence that they have been in the country for the last five years. This includes proof of identity (such as a passport or matricula consular), proof of living here (such as bills, bank statements and medical records) and their criminal and immigration histories.

Most importantly, Cheer said, undocumented immigrants should seek help from qualified attorneys at trusted local community organizations, not from notarios or unauthorized practitioners.

“If you’re eligible for the new DACA or DAPA, both of those programs are on hold. There is no way to apply right now,” warned Sharry, “so don’t be fooled by scam artists promising to get you to the front of the line.”

Spotting and Avoiding Scams in Ethnic Communities

News Report, George White | New America Media

LOS ANGELES – To Lang Zhao, the business she expected to ship her valuable package to in China appeared to be legitimate. After all, the clerk at the shipping store in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park gave her a tracking code after she paid the shipping fee and the customs charge.

When the package was not delivered, she tried to contact the business.

“I called again and again and the line was always busy,” she said. “I went back to the (shipping) store and it was closed … I called customs in Shanghai and gave them the tracking number. They told me that the name of the store – not my name – was on the package.”

Zhao also later discovered that more than 100 people were also victims of that shipping scam. If any of the previous victims had been more outspoken about the ruse by, for example, relaying their stories to local news outlets, Zhao might not have been victimized. That is one of the messages the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is conveying in a campaign to warn and educate ethnic communities about scams.

Zhao and several other victims of recent financial stings joined representatives from the FTC, the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs and the Los Angeles Police Department to warn and inform ethnic communities – often the targets of scams – at a February 10 news briefing hosted by New America Media.

Many ethnic communities are now even more of a target because hundreds of thousands of undocumented residents are now coming out of the shadows following two executive orders by President Obama. The first, the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allows children of parents who immigrated illegally to remain in the U.S. The other in 2014 offers a reprieve from deportation for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and for those who have resided in the country for at least five years.

“When there are new opportunities, scammers are ready,” said Thomas Syta, the Los Angeles-based assistant regional director of the FTC, during discussions at the news briefing.

The FTC says fraud and scams cost U.S. residents $1.6 billion in 2013 – the most recent tally – and that immigrants are frequently targeted because they do not fully understand English or U.S. law. Many of these schemes would have failed if scam targets had consulted friends or relatives, said Monica Vaca, assistant director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“We collect reports from those scammed and those not scammed,” Vaca said. “We found that many of the people who paid the money to the scammers did not talk to anyone else.”

A warning could have helped Alba Montoya avoid a costly scam. She wanted to get a green card for her husband. She was contacted by a woman at a company that claimed it excelled at obaining green cards.

“She told me they were not going to charge a lot,” Montoya said. “When I went to meet with her, I was told to pay $500. But two weeks later they asked for more money.”

In all, Montoya paid $2,500 to the grifters. Her husband did not obtain a green card.

Other scams involve aggressive frauds that generate a lot more money, said Rigo Reyes, chief of investigations for the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs. He relayed the experience of a man who used his credit cards to borrow $29,000 to pay grifters who contacted him by phone claiming to be representatives of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He realized he had been defrauded when he tried to reach the bogus IRS collectors by phone after making the payment. That phone had been disconnected.

“Our system does not allow the IRS to make such (collection) calls,” Reyes said, noting that the IRS sends collection notifications by mail. “He’s not going to get that money back. Scamming is difficult to stamp out. It’s like (a game of) Wack-A-Mole. One head comes up and we go after it and then another head pops up.”

Ethnic media can help government agencies and law enforcement identify scams, said Lt. Al Labrada, a community outreach liaison for the Los Angeles Police Department. He said a news producer at Univision recently contacted the police about a woman who had convinced a cancer patient in South Los Angeles to rely on her herbal treatments instead of medical care. The patient’s health declined dramatically. LAPD found and arrested the woman.

Labrada said all victims should report scams and that the undocumented can do so without fear of the police.

“We don’t care about their immigrant status,” he said. “We need them to come forward. There is no immigrant checkbox on our complaint forms.”


Scams: Warning Signs, Tips and Protections

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says scams perpetrated in ethnic communities are frequently framed as job offers, immigration assistance, mortgage modification, rental listings and sweepstakes. Some scams are used for identity theft. Here are some FTC tips for avoiding fraud.
• Do not pay to obtain employment or information about a job.
• Do not deal with anyone who says you have to act fast.
• Do not go to a notario publico (notary public) for legal advice because they are not lawyers.
• Get immigration information from U.S. government websites. If it is a legitimate government site, it includes .gov.
• Never sign a form that is blank and never sign a form that has false information.
• Do not let anyone keep important documents such as a passport or birth certificate.
• If you believe you have been defrauded call the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or report it at the FTC website at

No ‘Executive Action’ for Environmental Migrants

SAN FRANCISCO – As government officials and climate experts from around the world meet this week in Lima, Peru for a U.N. climate conference, tens of thousands worldwide have already been displaced by the effects of climate change.

Some have remained within their country of origin, while others have fled across borders or even oceans. Experts on global migration patterns warn that while the number of cross-border “environmental migrants” is certain to grow, there remains little to no legal framework for absorbing them.

“For those displaced across borders, there is nothing beyond general immigration and human rights law,” explained Elizabeth Ferris, director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement.

Her group is currently working with the UNHCR and Georgetown University to “develop guidance for governments on how to plan relocations made necessary by the effects of climate change.”

Ferris said that for the millions of internally displaced – those who have been forced from their homes but remain in their country of origin – there are international agreements in place, including the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, that while non-binding do provide some measure of predictable support.

Data show that in 2010-2011, there were some 42 million internally displaced people in Asia alone, the majority victims of natural disasters including storms, droughts, and sea rise.

But for cross-border migration driven by climate-related disasters, the legal landscape remains far murkier. Such migrants do not fall under the UN Convention for Refugees, for example, which only extends to those fleeing persecution on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or political affiliation.

To date, humanitarian aid agencies have only gone so far as to agree on the term “environmental migrant.” It is one of a number of terms – including “climate refugee” and “environmentally displaced person” – that have been used going back as far as 1976.

Advocates hope that by highlighting the nexus between climate change and global migration flows, such terms will help to expand existing refugee laws.

And that will be critical, they say.

Even assuming nations can reach agreement on slashing greenhouse emissions by up to 70 percent in 2050 – one of the goals of talks in Lima – forecasts for the number of people displaced by extreme weather events in coming years still hover in the hundreds of millions. The Organization of International Migration, which tracks global migration patterns, puts the number somewhere around 200 million by 2050.

Mexican migration 

Those who study climate-related migration say the majority of environmental migrants are likely to come from poorer countries in the developing world. For that reason, they say, it can be difficult to determine whether someone is a climate refugee, as opposed to an economic migrant fleeing poverty.

That is already the case for the growing number of migrants in the United States from parts of Mexico and Central America.

Leoncio Vasquez is the executive director of the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities (CBDIO) based in Fresno. He said that for decades now Mexican indigenous populations like the Purepechas from Michoacán, or the Mixtecos from Oaxaca, have faced intensified drought and desertification.

“But they can hardly use those words to explain their reasons for coming to California,” he said.

Indigenous Oaxacans, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, are currently the fastest growing farmworker population in California. CBDIO estimates that at least 120,000 have abandoned their land to resettle in areas around San Francisco, the Central Valley and Los Angeles. Many end up working mainly in fruit crops like grapes, apples and strawberries.

Vasquez cited a mix of factors behind their plight, including economic and trade policies like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

“The corn, beans and coffee planted by indigenous farmers can’t compete with subsidized U.S. products,” he said, adding that the Mexican government has stopped providing fertilizer for crops, while the land itself is becoming less and less fertile.

“All of that means one thing for these communities: poverty.”

Temporary Protected Status

One year ago the Philippines was devastated by super-typhoon Haiyan, which claimed more than 6,000 lives and displaced millions more. The ripples of that catastrophe are still being felt – even as another super-typhoon is now threatening the same region.

“[Typhoon Haiyan] affected the livelihood of fishermen, of farmers in the coconut fields … rural infrastructure was wiped away,” noted Lillian Galedo, executive director of Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ), an Oakland-based non-profit that works on behalf of the local Filipino community. She said the Philippines was still in the process of relocating 2 million people affected by the storm.

Just this month FAJ launched a campaign pushing the federal government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to undocumented Filipinos in the United States. Galedo says that would allow them to work legally and send remittances home that could help in reconstruction efforts.

TPS is granted to individuals from countries unprepared for the return of nationals due to temporary conditions resulting from war, epidemics or a natural disaster. In the 1990s thousands of Central Americans already in the United States received TPS in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch and ongoing civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Their status is set to expire next year.

Galedo said many in her community were hopeful that President Obama would extend TPS to undocumented Filipinos as part of his executive action announced two weeks earlier, which he did not do.

“We were very disappointed,” she said.

Mari Rose Taruc is an organizer with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, which is helping to fund the FAJ campaign. Filipinos need better jobs and to be protected from deportation,” she stressed. “Sending [them] back to typhoon ravaged areas is not the answer.”