On Saturday night, students from Penn for Immigrant Rights gathered in a creaky, old church at 42nd and Chestnut streets.
They, along with community leaders from the Media Mobilizing Project, were leading a workshop to help undocumented immigrants from Philadelphia fill out forms for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — a recent federal initiative designed to grant temporary protection from deportation to undocumented youth.
Out of the five or six undocumented immigrants expected to attend the event, though, only two came to the workshop.
“As a core member of DreamActivist Pennsylvania, we had also planned a workshop earlier this fall, and we were thinking we would easily be able to find participants and get them to come,” Wharton junior and PIR Community Engagement Co-Coordinator Jose Gonzalez said. “But we found that to not be the case at all. People are just really hesitant and afraid to apply.”
College junior and PIR Community Engagement Co-Coordinator Yessenia Gutierrez, a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, added that “we met quite a few people who were interested in the workshop — but one, either they couldn’t make it, or two, they [didn’t] have the documentation ready in time.”
DACA is a directive first announced by President Barack Obama in June. Eligible applicants can apply to receive temporary protection from deportation and a work permit, which is renewable every two years.
At the workshop, PIR members worked directly with the participants to help them fill out the forms.
“[A lawyer] actually trained a few of the current board members of PIR on how to fill out the application and problems that can come up,” Gonzalez said. “We later went and trained people from Media Mobilizing Project and our DACA committee.”
One of the participants, a 27-year-old man from southwest Philadelphia who wished to remain anonymous because of his undocumented status, said he did not see a reason for fear.
“I think it’s simple information, it’s nothing to be scared of,” he said.
He added that he did not know these workshops existed before he met Gutierrez.
According to David Bennion, an immigration lawyer and member of DreamActivist Pennsylvania, the low turnout rate at workshops for DACA has been a growing trend.
“I’ve definitely seen this as a persistent issue ever since they started accepting applications in August,” he said. “Most of the outreach sessions that I’ve seen were under-attended.”
Some of the PIR members themselves attended the workshop to get help completing the DACA form. Wharton freshman and PIR member Monica Castillo was one of these members.
“I came to help out with the application but also to be helped with any other thing that I need to know,” said Castillo, an undocumented immigrant. “The application … is pretty simple [ but] there are kind of some loopholes in the end that if you don’t know can hurt you.”
Castillo, who is from Mexico, said she applied for DACA protection because she believes the program will allow her to “not fear being deported.”
“With the application, that would give me a permit to work and I can take on work-study,” she added.
Despite the low turnout, Gonzalez and Gutierrez were not deterred, using some of their time Saturday night to lead a group discussion on how to increase turnout at future workshops.
“We talked about ideas to hold workshops like this in the future, what we could have done differently,” Gonzalez said. “Most people agreed that reaching out to community leaders is the best way to establish a relationship with the community.”
Gonzalez ultimately felt that the workshop was a success.
“It went really well, and we were able to help a few people,” he said.Comments powered by Disqus
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