Mark Hedin | Ethnic Media Services
Clockwise from top left: Adriana L. García, Associate Director of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Rigo Reyes, Executive Director of LA County’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Daniel Sharp, former Legal Director of the Central American Resource Center of California. Photo Credit: Ethnic Media Services

Change at the top in Washington, D.C., has raised hopes for change in U.S. immigration policies. At a “Town Hall” telebriefing on Feb. 11, representatives of both the Los Angeles city and county’s separate Offices of Immigrant Affairs, along with county and city librarians, offered an assessment of what to expect, and how to respond to developments.

Maria E. Penaloza, a program manager with the LA City OIA, led things off by explaining the differences between the “executive actions” process President Joe Biden has already utilized, and changes that can only happen with the cooperation of Congress, such as writing new legislation.

”Some executive actions call for the review of current policies, so as of today, it is not clear what further changes will happen or when.”

She addressed the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) programs.

There are almost 80,000 DACA enrollees and 30,000 TPS holders in the Los Angeles metro area, Penaloza said.
Although Biden has asked the Department of Homeland Security to strengthen DACA, she said, for now, that doesn’t change anything. Applications and renewals are still being accepted, and should be pursued without delay, because a pending court case in Texas could affect the program in unforeseen ways.

DACA and TPS both offer temporary relief from the possibility of deportation, but that’s not permanent, she cautioned. While Trump administration attempts to scale back TPS to just four of the current 10 countries are still tied up in court, Penaloza urged anyone facing issues around TPS to seek legal advice.

While the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 – more commonly known as the “Biden Immigration Reform Bill” — provides a path to citizenship that could welcome more than 11 million people, Penaloza stressed that the measure is only a proposal, not even published yet except for some fact sheets the White House released. “Right now, it has not been introduced, it is not law yet.”

LA County OIA Executive Director Rigo Reyes spoke of county services that cover people “from the womb to the tomb,” regardless of immigration status.

Of utmost importance right now is the plight of families separated at the border under “one of the harshest policies ever adopted,” he said.

“The numbers are not totally clear, but we know that at least 600 kids remain separated from their parents,” Reyes said. “So the county has made a commitment to find who these kids are, determine what services the county has that could help them out — not just the kids, but those who are taking care of them now. We know they need a lot of help.”

As for the immigrant community in general, he listed legal representation, health care, school enrollment and support, cash and non-cash assistance including CalFresh, as “basic things that the county wants to provide.”

Reyes urged those seeking advice or further information to call (800) 593-8222, or go to https://oia.lacounty.gov/.

Adriana Garcia, Associate Director of the LA City OIA, described the latest immigration scams. These crop up every time changes to the laws are under discussion, she said.

To avoid “notario fraud” — legal advice offered by non-lawyers or unethical lawyers — she said, don’t try to save time and money by accepting help from tax preparers, immigration counselors or anyone but a licensed lawyer. Anyone else offering legal advice is breaking the law by doing so, she said, and should be avoided.

Get agreements in writing, including fee information, she said, and watch out about paying for government forms – they’re usually free on the web — or giving up original documents. Provide copies only. Don’t sign blank or incomplete forms, or forms you don’t understand, she said. Get copies of documents prepared for you and receipts for and copies of filings made on your behalf, and receipts for work you pay for, that identify the service provider.

A “huge red flag,” she also warned, is anyone guaranteeing results, or promising good outcomes based on having special connections.

Daniel Sharp, chief of the county OIA, addressed Trump administration efforts to use the “public charge” rule to discourage people from seeking government help. Biden has begun the process of reversing the rule, he said, “but it’s going to take time.”

But, he advised, the rule only applies to those trying to enter or re-enter the country or adjust their immigration status and is otherwise irrelevant to most immigrants to the United States.

All programs fighting COVID-19, such as medical sheltering programs, testing and vaccinations, and many others, including, for example, Medi-Cal, My Health LA, and workers compensation also don’t count in public charge consideration, he said. Nor do programs other household members may be using.

Daniel Hernandez, Chicano Resource Center Librarian for the L.A. County Library system, listed a variety of supports for immigrant communities, such as “Citizenship-in-a-Bag” kits that include study materials and application forms, and Laptop & HotSpot loan programs that offer computers and web service for things such as accessing applications and test preparation. These and more services, including English-learning help, can be obtained via LACountyLibrary.org.

The city’s library system, too, through its New American Centers has free immigration services — naturalization assistance, LPR (Lawful Permanent Resident) card renewals, fee waiver applications, DACA applications and renewals and more.

To find these services, Michelle Soong, of the New Americans Initiative program, said, call (213) 228-7390 or visit https://www.lapl.org/newamericans.

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