Immigration service providers around the country are preparing for an expected surge of applicants on the eve of President Obama's year-end deportation relief action.
Though the details of the president's plan are still unknown, the onus of implementing deportation relief could fall heavily on understaffed and underfunded community organizations.
"It definitely stretches our budget and it stretches our capacity; we don't have the funding to hire lawyers," said Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, a Philadelphia-based organization that has three staffers, a few volunteers and an annual budget of $180,000. She says she's not clear how many immigrants will qualify for deportation relief, but her organization expects thousands of people will "be coming looking for information."
This isn't the first time something like this has happened. In 2012, President Obama rolled out a deportation relief program for young people, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The rush to prepare applicants was hectic; there was only a 60-day window between the announcement of the program and when the government started accepting applications.
What's different is that organizations like Juntos can now tap existing networks of volunteers.
"We already have a group of young people who have been trained before, so we'll probably do that," Almiron said. She said she has a dozen bilingual volunteers at the ready, but it might not be enough. If the new program is broader in scope than DACA — as some anticipate — Almiron says she'll "have to figure out how to train more people."
Activists expect millions of people could be eligible for work permits. The bulk of applications will likely come from people in states with large immigrant populations, such as California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida. States with emerging populations of Latino immigrants, including North Carolina and Georgia, can also count on strong interest in a deportation-relief program.
The biggest crop of applicants will likely be from California; roughly one-third of the 581,000 people approved for DACA between 2012 to 2014 came from the state.
If Obama does act, a coalition of groups in California will have the foundations in place to educate prospective applicants. "I think a lot of us see DACA as sort of the test run for a bigger program," said Shiu-Ming Cheer, an immigration attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.
In addition to preparing, organizations are also want to keep pressure on the White House.
Says Xiomara Corpeño, of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, "We're letting people know that nothing has happened yet, and it will only happen if we continue to pressure the president."
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.