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.”

Getting Richmond Covered

By Nancy DeVille

As open enrollment continues for benefits under the Affordable Care Act, Richmond health advocates are making an extra push to help residents learn what their options are.

Through February, Californians who currently don’t have access to health plans through an employer or private insurer can obtain coverage through Covered California, the state’s insurance marketplace.

In Contra Costa County, health care officials are especially focused on those who avoided signing up last year, including African Americans, Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islanders, the formally incarcerated and families with mixed immigration status.

“We’ve been working on a number of strategies around this idea of everyone having healthcare in Contra Costa County,” said Roxanne Carrillo Garza, who works for HUB Manager for Healthy Richmond, a 10-year, community-driven project to help improve the health and safety in Richmond.

“We are working to bring a variety of folks together who serve the hardest to reach populations,” she said. “We have to go into these communities, where people live, worship and where they feel most comfortable. Having healthcare is really a human right.”

Richmond recently held an enrollment event for the Asian and Pacific Islander community. It was one of the first cities in the state to target this demographic, Carrillo Garza said. It was the launch of several community workshops planned across the county.

“The idea is that it’s important to ensure access to healthcare to all Contra Costa residents to make sure we foster an environment where people are connected to prevention services as well as having health services,” she said.

Access to healthcare for some Richmond residents isn’t easy. Many undocumented immigrants have been shut out of access to health insurance, and they are not allowed to buy insurance on the health care exchange. Anyone can buy private insurance though, but often cost is a barrier.

Those that don’t qualify for the federally mandated health care options usually access emergency health services or visit local community clinics like RotaCare Richmond or LifeLong Medical Care.

There are some healthcare programs for undocumented immigrants. They include Family PACT, a state program that pays for sexual and reproductive health services; pregnant women are eligible for Emergency Medi-Cal, and some can qualify for the AIM Program– Access for Infants & Mothers.

Children under the age of 19 are eligible for Contra Costa County’s basic health care program, or Kaiser Permanente’s child health plan.

Despite the benefits, getting even documented Latinos to apply for health insurance can still be a hard sell—especially for those who come from mixed immigration status families. They fear their signing up could tip off immigration authorities to undocumented relatives and put them at risk of deportation.

Health care educators are now distributing flyers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that reassures documented immigrants from mixed status families that the information they provide on their health care applications won’t jeopardize their undocumented family members.

“This year we are really stepping up our game and letting people know that we only need the social security numbers and consent for individuals that are looking for coverage from Covered California, not the people applying on their behalf,” said Nestor Certa, a Covered California certified enrollment counselor.

“Even if they don’t have a legal status, they can still apply on behalf of their kids and we encourage that,” he added.

Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, can now apply for state-funded Medi-Cal if they meet the income eligibility, which is $16,105 for a single person and $32,913 for a family of four.

It’s good news for Raquel Perez, a DACA beneficiary. She was among dozens of Richmond residents who recently gathered at the Nevin Community Center to listen to presentations about what federal health care reform options are available. It was the first time she heard she was eligible for health insurance.

Not having health insurance “made things a little hard for me,” the 27-year-old Richmond resident said. She currently works as a substitute teacher and isn’t eligible for health benefits.

“I need to have insurance and I feel good that I’m eligible for something so I can see a doctor if needed and not have to worry about the bill,” she said.

Perez is now making an effort to let others know about what health insurance options might be available.

In U.S., Undocumented People Can Donate But Not Receive Organs

News Report, Viji SundaramNew America Media 


SAN PABLO, Calif. – Without treatment to replace her failing kidneys, Olga knows she will die.

The 37-year-old single mother is desperate to get a transplant so she can get well enough to nurture and provide for her three children again – something she hasn’t been able to do for the last couple of years.

But her undocumented status disqualifies her from getting on the organ transplant list, endangering her life.

Olga’s frail health forced her to stop working as a house cleaning woman and attendant at a Bay Area car wash, something she did seven days a week to supplement the $800 monthly checks her children’s father sends her. Those were jobs she could do without revealing her unauthorized status. In 2010, she was abruptly forced to quit her job loading boxes at a UPS facility, when her employer one day asked her for her Social Security number.

Olga, who asked that her last name not be used, stopped working completely two years ago after her legs began to swell and she suffered persistent headaches. Her trips to the emergency room only gave her temporary relief. She tried going on disability with the help of an immigration attorney provided by a charitable organization, but was told she didn’t qualify.

Olga (far left) with her three children. / photo: Viji Sundaram

Olga (far left) with her three children. / photo: Viji Sundaram

The Mexico-born woman was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2001. In 2012, doctors told her she would require dialysis for the rest of her life unless she could get a kidney transplant. But to get on the transplant list, they told her, she would need to have legal status. Until then, she could receive dialysis on an outpatient basis three times a week. California currently has 50,057 dialysis patients.

Though not very health literate, Olga appreciates the irony of her situation. She knows it would be cheaper for her to get a kidney transplant for about $100,000 than it is to receive a lifetime of dialysis, which costs around $80,000 a year in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On average, transplantation doubles the life expectancy of a patient compared to dialysis. But even if she were given a transplant, Olga’s medical treatment would be far from over because she would need anti-rejection drugs costing about $10,000 a year for the rest of her life. Many transplant centers say an undocumented person’s status could compromise his or her ability to continue paying for follow-up care.

“Essentially, all transplant centers require that all transplant candidates have medical insurance, be it public or private, so that the patients will have coverage following transplantation to cover the cost of the immunosuppressive drugs, which are expensive,” said Dr. John Scandling, medical director of the kidney transplant center at Stanford University, where some undocumented patients living in Santa Clara County have received transplants.

But he asserted: “My personal opinion is that undocumented patients should not be kept off the organ waiting list. We don’t turn down organs donated by undocumented people, but we are not willing to provide organs to them.”

An oddity in the U.S. health care system requires that federal Medicare cover all patients with end-stage renal disease, regardless of their age, for dialysis and organ transplantation. The exception is undocumented immigrants. But low-income undocumented patients can receive emergency care for which hospitals are reimbursed by the federal-state funded insurance program for low-income people called Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California). Olga is lucky that California, like New York and North Carolina, defines the outpatient dialysis she receives as “emergency care.”

Last year, following protests by 14 undocumented patients in critical need of organ transplants, two Chicago-area hospitals agreed to put undocumented patients in need of organ transplants on the wait list.

Even if Olga could get on the kidney transplant list, she would likely have to wait six to 10 years to get a transplant in the San Francisco Bay Area because there is a greater demand for kidneys here than there are donors, Scandling said. In the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest, by contrast, the wait time is between one and three years.

Olga’s father, who had lived in the United States illegally since he, his wife and Olga immigrated here from their native Mexico 15 years ago, moved back home in 2012 to seek treatment for his diabetes.

Olga, too, could go back to Mexico, where a kidney transplant costs around $40,000, but she would have to sneak back in through the desert to reunite with her three U.S.-born children. That, she said, would be too dangerous.

Laura Lopez, executive director of Street Level Health Project, an Oakland-based non-profit that helps immigrants get access to health care and other services, believes that California should provide health care for all of its residents. She supports democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara’s Health Care For All bill.

“People shouldn’t have to go back to their homeland to die because they can’t get health care in the U.S.,” Lopez asserted.

Richmond Rolls Out City ID Cards

News Report, Nancy DeVille

Richmond is the latest Bay Area city to offer a municipal identification card with the goal of allowing residents to open bank accounts and gain access to other services.

The Richmond City ID Prepaid MasterCard program provides qualifying residents with an official form of identification that includes an optional prepaid debit card. The card is issued to anyone that can prove Richmond residency, regardless of immigration status. A photo ID is required for the banking services.

The program was approved by the city council in 2011. Among its goals is to ease some of the hardships facing seniors, the homeless and newly released inmates, according to city officials. SF Global, a third party vendor, administers the card.

The card is recognized as a valid from of identification by the Richmond Police Department and all city agencies.

“All of our residents deserve each and every opportunity to access services, including banking services,” Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said recently.

“We want our residents to feel safe in reporting crimes and getting information to the police. These often marginalized communities are frequently unable to participate fully in society and the economy.”

The program’s financial services include direct deposit, online shopping, the ability to load cash via Western Union and ATM withdrawals. A $3.99 monthly fee is accessed unless customers make over 25 purchases or deposit at least $1,000 in a single month. Other fees include $1 for card-to-card transfers, $0.50 inactivity fee that stops after six months, $1.00 for each additional live customer service calls after one free one is used. There is an initial fee of $10 for seniors 65 and older and $15 for residents to sign up for the card.

“The buzz in Richmond is that every one has waited a long time for this card to come out,” said Paule Cruz Takash, one of the co-founders of SF Global. “The appointments are going like hotcakes. We expect for the first three to five months, there will be hundreds of people showing up. Richmond wants to help people, they don’t want residents carrying so much cash on them that it becomes a public safety issue.”

Although Raquel Terez has a state issued ID card, she says she’s applying for Richmond’s because of its banking benefits.

“It’s a good way to start building my credit,” she said. “But there are people in my family, like my mother, who will benefit from this.”

Living without identification is burdensome for some of the simplest things, Terez said. Her mom, Amada Terez can’t return or exchange items in certain stores without a valid ID card, she said.

Amada, according to Terez, said that having a card will help her feel secure and like she is a part of the city.

Terez is working to tell others about the importance of applying for the new municipal ID.

“I’ve been promoting this on Facebook and to my friends as much as I can,” she said. “This is something that is happening in our community and we should all be aware of what’s going on. If the police stop you and know who you are, that brings more security to everyone.”

But, some agencies that work with newly released inmates question if the new municipal ID will help their clientele.

“If it’s really meant to be beneficial to people when they are just starting out, then the card should have some type of protections, at least in the short term, around child support,” said Tamisha Walker of the Safe Return Project, a program that helps formerly incarcerated Richmond residents readjust to society.

Cruz Takash admits back owed child support could be a problem for the formerly incarcerated, and others who’ve fallen behind, but she said it hasn’t been much of an issue in other cities.

Richmond’s program follows an initiative launched in Oakland in 2013. Over 5,000 cards have been distributed in Oakland since last year’s debut, SF Global officials said.

Oakland’s program sparked criticism over a variety of fees including a $0.75-cent charge per debit card purchase and $1.75 to call customer service. SF Global officials say they since reduced the charges.

Applications are processed at Grace Lutheran Church, 2369 Barrett Ave. in Richmond. For more information, visit

Majority of California Voters Support Health Care for the Undocumented

A majority of California voters support the idea of expanding health coverage to include all low-income people in the state, regardless of their immigration status, according to a new poll.

The poll, commissioned by private health foundation The California Endowment, showed that some 54 percent of the state’s voters would support expanding Medi-Cal and Covered California to provide health insurance to all who are low-income, including the state’s undocumented population.

Health care reform under the Affordable Care Act currently excludes undocumented immigrants, and legislation to expand coverage to them in California – the “Health For All” bill authored by state Senator Ricardo Lara (D – Los Angeles) — didn’t make it onto Governor Brown’s desk in 2014. But with numbers showing that public support is growing for providing health care to everyone, elected officials and advocates are preparing for the reintroduction of that bill when the state legislature reconvenes in January.

At a Health For All rally on Wednesday in front of the state building in Oakland, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) said that he was excited by the poll results, calling them “consistent with the values I have and the state has. It shows we value the health care of our community. I would like to see the numbers grow more, but it’s a starting point.” Bonta co-sponsored the Health For All bill in 2014, and will continue to support it when Sen. Lara reintroduces it for 2015.

The poll surveyed 800 voters in late August in English and Spanish. Support for providing coverage to the undocumented was highest among voters of color, particularly Latinos (69 percent) and African Americans (68 percent), compared to 47 percent of white voters. By age, support was highest among 18 to 29-year-olds (68 percent).

Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of The California Endowment, said that the numbers show “a generational shift under way in California in attitudes” around covering the undocumented.

Approximately 1.4 million people in California lack health insurance due to their immigration status, among them Denise Rojas, who spoke at the rally. Rojas, a young undocumented woman, spoke about her family’s struggle with not having health insurance.

“When I was in college, my mom was diagnosed with uterine fibroids,” Rojas said. “She was denied health coverage so she made the tough decision to immigrate to Canada,” where she was able to access care. Rojas hasn’t been able to see her since then, because her own immigration status prevents her from visiting.

In the poll, when asked about specific aspects of the proposed expansion, voters were most supportive of the idea of improving access to preventative care, and the resulting reduction in overall costs to the state. Some 86 percent of voters were supportive of this.

According to Bonta, providing health care to the undocumented is right now costing the state about $1.5 billion a year, due in large part to the high cost of emergency room visits resulting from a lack of preventative care.

At a press briefing in September, Bonta said that Health For All would cost the state about $360 million in its first year, ultimately saving money.

“Even in a state like California where there appears to be the will to have everyone included, cost is always a factor,” Zingale said on a press call last week. He said there seems to be a growing awareness that “there is a direct connection between prevention and cost savings.”

At the rally, Oakland resident Iris Merriouns agreed. “No one should have to wait until they get acute health problems before they go to see a doctor. It’s a burden on the system. It’s wise to invest now, and pay less later,” she said.

DACA Recipients Grateful for Present, Uncertain About Future

Story and Video • Edgardo Cervano-Soto


Manuel Martinez thought his future would follow the life of his father. When he was 17, he thought he’d work in construction after high school. Despite living in Richmond since the age of one, Martinez didn’t think he had many options because of his undocumented status.

Farther north, in Modesto, Yaquelin Valencia, a Kennedy High School graduate, spent a lot of her time driving around the Central Valley. She was 20 years old and passionate about organizing immigrant communities. She was also undocumented, and ineligible for a driver’s license.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama authored a memorandum that would alter the course of the two youngsters’ lives, along with the lives of hundreds of thousands in similar situations. The order granted young immigrants who met specific criteria the chance to apply for what is essentially a temporary reprieve from deportation, or the threat of it.

The administrative policy had an innocuous name, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Those eligible for DACA are granted an opportunity to apply for a work permit and a social security number.

Valencia and Martinez applied for DACA within months of its announcement and both were granted DACA status.

“January 22, 2013, I got a letter in the mail,” Martinez recalled. “My mom cried. She told me how proud she was that I was now an ‘American;’ that I finally belonged in the country.” With a year and a half remaining of high school, Martinez kicked into high gear, re-committing himself to his studies and reconsidering the possibility of what life could be like after graduation.

The last two-plus years since DACA went into effect have impacted the lives of eligible undocumented people, making opportunities such as employment and higher education accessible to many for the first time.

DACA generated national interest when it was announced. It was celebrated as an accomplishment for DREAMers and their supporters, those who advocated for immigration reform for the young undocumented community in the United States.

Obama and Democrats throughout the country, who’d earlier been polling low with Latinos, also enjoyed benefits from the DACA announcement. Obama was re-elected to the presidency a few months later, due in part to a reinvigorated Latino electorate—71 percent of Latinos voted for him that year.

Immigration rights organizations sprung into gear, helping potential applicants throughout the country apply. According to the American Immigration Council, a non-partisan and independent think tank, approximately 670,000 people have applied for DACA, with nearly 550,000 of those applicants approved.

In Richmond, Heather Wolf, an attorney at Catholic Charities of the East Bay, said her office has processed 300 applications and pre-screened over a thousand at workshops. She said the Richmond numbers were substantial.

Despite the boom in applications, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates that of the 1.2 million people eligible for DACA, half a million of them have yet to apply. A fee of $465 for a work permit, and a requirement that all application information be forwarded to USCIS may explain why some are reluctant to apply.

Valencia, who assisted Catholic Charities of the East Bay with the pre-screening process, and is a long time immigration rights advocate, used to be among them.

“My understanding of it was that we were going to get a temporary work permit for two years,” she said. “Well, what’s going to happen after two years? What’s going to happen if it gets revoked?”

Those questions persist, but the effect of DACA on the lives of those who’ve received it is undeniable.

“I haven’t had anyone come through, who didn’t go out and immediately get a job or enroll full time in school, or is saving money to go to a four-year college,” Wolf said. “They have all been very productive and inspiring.”

As for Valencia, DACA allowed her to obtain a driver’s license and enroll full time in school.

“I think my mom had a sense of relief that I would be driving around now safely,” Valencia said.

Today she drives herself to school and gives colleagues rides to community meetings. After being elected to serve on the board of the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, CCISCO, an organization she’d previously volunteered at, Valencia said she drives to Antioch for board meetings with a new sense of security and confidence.

“I feel much safer having a driver’s license,” she said, adding, “When I see an officer I still get a little nervous when they are behind me and I know they are checking my tags, but I know that because I have insurance and a driver’s license….I should be okay if they were to stop me.

After receiving DACA, Martinez completely changed the course of his educational career. With the help of his teachers, he increased his grade point average, ending his senior year with an acceptance letter from San Francisco State University. Martinez is now studying computer science at SFSU. But, a recent interaction at school reminded him of the limits of DACA.

“Even though I have a social security number, I still don’t qualify for many types of financial aid, many scholarships and some types of jobs,” Martinez said.
“I kind of feel like this is not a full measure, this is a half measure,” he said. “I am at a disadvantage for no reason again.”

Immigrant rights activists criticize the DACA program because it does not provide a path to citizenship. Now in its third year, those who received DACA status early on need to renew their applications.

According to USCIS, the participation rates of Asian American and Pacific Islanders have been remarkably low. For instance, of the 27,000 from the Philippines who were eligible, only 3,874 applied. Among Koreans, only 7,741 of the 26,000 eligible applied.

The uncertainty of whether immigration reform will become a reality during the last two years of Obama’s presidency, and the possibility of Republicans gaining control of the house following the November elections, puts many on edge. They worry that a shift in the political makeup of Washington could reverse their lives once again.

“DACA just opened so many doors,” said Wolf, of the people she’s seen come through her office in Richmond. “It would be really tragic to see the program shut down.”

Dr. Chris Zepeda-Millán, a political scientist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, believes that concern for the program is warranted.

“The limit of DACA is that it’s not permanent,” he said. “If Republicans win this election, there is nothing stopping Congress from passing anti-immigrant bills.”

In fact, recent studies show the likelihood of Republicans picking up more seats is increasing, as Latino support for Obama and Democrats falls.

“With the mass deportations, and President Obama postponing executive action, it is actually suppressing the Latino vote,” Zepeda-Millán said. “If Republicans win the presidential election in two years, all this can disappear.”

Martinez and Valencia have taken advantage of DACA’s short-term benefits, but the future remains clouded, and citizenship still elusive.

“It frustrates me because I remember the first line I read on DACA was ‘this is not a road to citizenship,’ which is my ultimate goal,” Martinez said. “Because I feel as American as I can feel.”