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JUNTOS joins nationwide push to support immigrant students

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

In June the Obama administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, giving certain undocumented youth a chance to receive deportation protection and a two-year U.S. work permit. Now, JUNTOS, a community organization that supports and encourages immigrants in Philadelphia, is helping students to obtain Deferred Action status.

In its offices at the Houston Community Center in South Philadelphia, members of JUNTOS, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, conduct informational sessions with community leaders about DACA, and have weekly two-hour meetings with students to answer questions and assist with the application process.

“There are a lot of people that come to our [Deferred Action] hours that are in the process of applying,” said JUNTOS youth organizer Miguel Andrade.

“But there are also people who come in who don’t know anything about it and are looking for more information about it.”

To be eligible to receive the status, students must have entered the United States before age 16, have no criminal record, and be a current student or high school graduate.

It has not been a speedy process. According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), nearly 180,000 people nationwide have submitted applications, but only 4,591 of those applicants have been granted status by USCIS. More than 200 people have filed applications with help from JUNTOS, according to executive director Erika Almiron, but the organization is waiting to get back its first approval.

Gisela Hernandez, a 10th grader at Academy at Palumbo, applied for DACA in June.

Hernandez has yet to hear back from USCIS, but is undeterred.

“The process takes so long because a lot of people have applied so they have to go through all of the applications and paperwork,” she said.

“I understand why the process is the way it is, but I hope I get accepted soon.”

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