Many students on campus may not realize that their classmates are DREAMERS. No, I do not mean day dreamers, I mean DACA Dreamers. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals created in 2012, and it has become the safety net for many Dreamers that were brought to this country as children by their parents.
Through DACA, these students are then able to attend college, gain employment, and are eligible for deferred action. According to the USISC website, “Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time.” DACA lasts 2-3 years, and is renewable.
But how do these students get DACA? Where do they go? There are many organizations public and private which offer immigration services including DACA. These include lawyers, non-profits, and individuals that are accredited to file for others. It may be difficult for those in need to decide where to go, and how to choose, especially with such a sensitive topic, and that is why I chose Centro Aztlan.
Centro Aztlan, also known as Asociación Pro Servicios Sociales Inc., is a safe haven for the marginalized population in Laredo. The undocumented, the elderly, migrant workers, all make their way to 406 Scott Street to find help. The organization provides low cost immigration services, along with many other services that we might take for granted such as filling out forms, translation. They even help with job applications.
Centro Aztlan was founded in 1973, and its purpose was to “Operate exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, including but not limited to improvement of the condition of the poor, the underprivileged, and the victims of discrimination and alienation;” and they continue to do so today. Their clients range from young children applying for DACA, to the elderly who need help with their Social Security forms. What is unique about this organization is the welcoming atmosphere that they provide.
The staff is small, with only 3 employees, consisting of Dora Negrete the administrative assistant, Rosa Morales the bookkeeper, and Angelica Lopez who works on the immigration cases. Lopez is an Accredited Representative who is certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals to work on immigration applications.
I was able to use the services myself after my husband and I got married. We had known about the organization through family and friends, and decided it would be the best place to go for applying to get my husband’s resident card. We were given an appointment where we met Mrs. Lopez, and she explained all the requirements, what we needed to provide, and went over the fees versus the cost of services. The application process for us went smoothly, over the course of less than 6 months we had already gotten a positive result.
Each case is different, and Lopez has had her share of difficult cases as well. She has worked with a blind couple where one partner passed away during the process, another where a client who was a resident left the U.S. to live in Mexico who had difficulty later on applying for his citizenship when he moved back. These cases and others are just a few of the success stories that the Centro has added to its long list of satisfied clients.
Jose De Jesus Alvarado, a student of TAMIU, and writer for The Bridge, happens to be a Dreamer that took advantage of the immigration services provided by Centro Aztlan. Jose was brought to the U.S. when he was younger than 5 years old. His journey has been a typical one, with school always being a priority. Jose sought DACA as a means to continue his education at the university level. He is currently a senior studying Communication, which he might not have been able to do without the DACA mandate. He also took advantage of the services offered by the Centro, and was able to register for TAMIU right after graduating high school.
The Centro Aztlan and Mrs. Lopez submitted the application on his behalf, and he is now not only attending TAMIU, but working two jobs as well. He is currently working for Aramark on campus, at the student favorite, Chick-Fil-A, as well as working part time at Pizza Hut.
Unfortunately, the organization has recently been limited due to low funding. The primary source of income for the Centro comes from Gambit Bingo. The Bingo sponsors different non-profit organizations, and the Centro receives a share of the proceeds on certain days of the week. Additionally, the fees for client services also contribute to the funding. Another portion of funds comes from the PALE program, which is a program developed by the Mexican Consulate, which offers $10,000 annually specifically for DACA and VAWA cases.
The staff has limited its hours of operation, from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M., to now 8 A.M. to 2pm. The ladies that are dedicated to their work stated “Even if we are only able to open for one hour, we will be here, helping people.” It is the organizations purpose and mission that seem to keep the doors from closing, as both the clients and employees feel committed to their efforts.
The Centro Aztlan is currently accepting donations, and is seeking support from the community to spread the word about what they do. Donations over $100 will receive an autographed poster print of Laredo born artist, Amado Peña’s work.
Centro Aztlan gains its clients mostly by word of mouth, but they hope to change that in order to increase their client base and help even more people that may be disadvantaged in our community. It is important to be aware that not all students enter into TAMIU with ease, and that there are still many families in our city that are living in the shadows. Centro Aztlan is one of the organizations that is giving them a voice.
For more information on donating or volunteering, please contact the office at (956) 724-6244.