Chicago – Immigration hotlines are buzzing. Legal clinics are seeing an influx of clients. Public schools are fielding frantic questions from parents and students.
Since the election, Donald Trump’s tough talk on immigration has stirred anxiety nationwide among immigrants regardless of legal status. They are turning to lawyers, schools, advocacy groups and congressional offices for help.
“We’re operating with a lot of unknowns and a certain amount of fear comes with that,” said Vanessa Esparza-López, a managing attorney at the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Centre.
In Chicago, a hotline run by the state’s largest immigrant-rights group received more than 330 calls in the week after the election, compared to the usual 100 or so. Denver school officials sent a letter to parents in response to questions about the election’s effect on students living in the country illegally.
The New York Legal Assistance Group said it’s receiving 40 to 60 daily calls about immigration, up from 20 to 30. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles reported 19 walk-ins on a single day…all with citizenship questions.
The most urgent inquiries have been from young people benefiting from a 2012 federal programme started by President Barack Obama’s administration that allows immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to avoid deportation and get work permits. About 740 000 people have participated in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals system.
Attorneys say the programme is vulnerable because it was created by executive order, not by law, leaving new potential applicants second-guessing whether to sign up.
During the campaign, Trump pledged to deport the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally and to build a border wall. The Republican president-elect has not detailed how he will proceed and recently changed his tune regarding the number of anticipated deportees.
The Centre for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration levels, explained the spike in activity as uncertainty about whether existing laws will be enforced by Trump’s administration.
Attorneys and immigrant organisations said green card holders feel new urgency to ensure that paperwork such as a renewal application is in order over fears that laws could change under a new administration. Most immigrants can seek citizenship three to five years after getting a green card.
Roughly 9 million green card holders are currently eligible for citizenship, according to the most recent Department of Homeland Security statistics. Some citizens also sought clarity about when they could sponsor family members abroad.
“People need reassurance,” said Irina Matiychenko, who leads the immigrant protection unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group. “People need guidance.”
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