Immigrant organizations are crucial to carrying out Obama’s executive action

By Erwin de Leon  ::  November 21st, 2014


Last night, the president laid out his long-anticipated executive action on immigration, which grants reprieve from deportation to an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants, individuals who have lived here for at least five years and have no criminal record. Now, many people will be able to work legally without fearing deportation and separation from their families and communities.

The executive action also expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to include young immigrants—DREAMers—who have aged out; provide visas for foreign nationals who invest in the US economy and those who pursue science, technology, engineering, and math degrees in US universities; and add security personnel and resources at the border. The executive action, however, does not include farm workers or the undocumented parents of DREAMers. Moreover, none of the beneficiaries will receive public subsidies under the Affordable Care Act or will be eligible for public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Undocumented immigrants who want to request this reprieve will have to submit an application for deferred action, a process that can be demanding and does not guarantee automatic approval. An individual will have to provide documents proving she meets eligibility requirements, complete multiple government forms, pay taxes and fees, pass a criminal background check, submit her biometrics, and then wait to hear whether her application has been approved. The process can be daunting.

A majority of undocumented individuals are low income and will encounter challenges with the requisite paperwork, application forms, and fees. They will have few resources, if any, to secure the services of immigration attorneys. Some will fall prey to notarios, others will hire expensive lawyers they cannot afford, and many will turn to immigrant-serving nonprofits that provide free legal assistance and other social services. These community-based organizations are best suited to help immigrants with the legalization process and, in the long run, with integration into the economic, political, and social mainstream.

An Urban Institute brief on immigrant legal-aid organizations reveals, however, that these nonprofits are few and far between and that capacity is a major issue. Analysis of National Center for Charitable Statistics data indicates that at least 684 nonprofits provide some form of legal aid to immigrants and are dispersed throughout the United States in traditional, emerging, and new immigrant gateways. But the ratio of legal-aid nonprofits to potential undocumented immigrants is alarming.

In the 10 states with the most undocumented immigrants, nonprofits that provide legal services to immigrants would have more people to serve than other nonprofits. For instance, in Texas, the ratio of immigrant legal-aid nonprofits to potential undocumented clients is 1 to 41,250. In contrast, the ratio of other nonprofits to the general population is 1 to 2,916.


As undocumented immigrants start applying for deportation reprieve, legal-aid and other immigrant-serving organizations will bear the brunt of helping these individuals. Aside from assisting in the deferred action application process, these groups will continue providing basic social services, as beneficiaries of the president’s executive action will not have access to free health care and other safety net programs available to US citizens and permanent residents. It is crucial to identify, map, and survey immigrant-serving organizations to determine their capacities and challenges in serving immigrant communities. This information will be invaluable in discovering where the gaps in resources and services are so that they may be filled and that more immigrants can join the mainstream.

Photo: President Barack Obama announces immigration executive action on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at the White House. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool) 


Evidence on how Obama's immigration executive action will affect children

By Julia Gelatt  ::  November 21st, 2014

Last night, President Obama unveiled his long-anticipated plan to use executive power to adjust immigration policy. Under his program, an estimated 3.7 million parents of US citizens and legal immigrants can apply for temporary relief from deportation and work authorization. Details are still emerging, and the president and Congress will continue to debate the use [...]

Read More


Police failure to investigate rape cases goes beyond New Orleans

By Janine Zweig  ::  November 20th, 2014

Once again, Louisiana is in the news for its poor treatment of rape victims. This time, the story is the New Orleans Police Department’s routine failure to investigate sexual assault claims. Stories in the Times-Picayune detail how investigators ignored women’s claims, didn’t submit rape kits for testing, and didn’t follow up when kits came back [...]

Read More


Getting creative to research gun violence

By Sam Bieler  ::  November 19th, 2014

Explore the interactive feature, “Raising the Voices of Gun Violence”.  For such a hot-button issue, the amount we don’t know about gun violence in America is startling. People are often shocked to learn how basic the gaps in our information are: we’re hazy on how many guns are in any given area, we regularly underreport [...]

Read More


To gauge the health of your whole community, look to your teens

By Laudan Aron  ::  November 18th, 2014

Last week, I shared a starter list of principles that can help guide health-promoting community investments. That list was inspired by a large and growing body of research on the social determinants of health: conditions within our families, neighborhoods, and communities that shape our health and survival. That same body of research points to an important [...]

Read More


Three trends that signal hard times for renters in 2015

By Ellen Seidman  ::  November 18th, 2014

More than half the new households formed in the next six years will be renters rather than homeowners. Yet renter incomes are on average only 70 percent of homeowner incomes, so where will the new renters live?  Five experts in rental housing pondered these and other questions about the future of multifamily housing on November [...]

Read More

Spin Alert: DOE loans are losing money, not making profits

By Donald Marron  ::  November 17th, 2014

The Department of Energy snookered the media last week with a report that seems to show that its clean energy lending programs are profitable. “Remember Solyndra? Those loans are making money,” went a typical headline. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Taxpayers are losing money on DOE lending. Less than originally expected, and less than you would [...]

Read More

Data Dive

Urban Institute's first data dive calls for better data on domestic violence

By Jon Schwabish  ::  November 14th, 2014

Roughly 1 in 4 women is estimated to be a victim of intimate partner abuse. In certain populations, where data may be less reliable and sample sizes may be smaller, rates of domestic abuse may be even higher. For example, estimates suggest that about 1 out of every 2 women in the Asian/Pacific Islander community [...]

Read More

The 15-year mortgage is not a silver bullet for low-income borrowers

By Ellen Seidman and Laurie Goodman and Jun Zhu  ::  November 13th, 2014

The 30-year fixed rate mortgage is America’s most popular mortgage product and the foundation of today’s mortgage market. The lower monthly payment makes the loan affordable to lower and middle income borrowers. But most of the payments made in the early years of a 30-year mortgage only pay off interest, making it hard for borrowers [...]

Read More