Jackson Heights Law Firms See Obvious Fluctuations in the Number of Clients
Undocumented immigrants are more scared then ever
With the announcement of a delay in the implementation of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) Program, and Republican candidate Donald Trump’s recent plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants in two years, immigrants in this country have reason to be concerned about their legal status. Law firms dealing with migration issues in Jackson Heights, the most diverse neighborhood in the nation, have seen both an increase and decrease in the number of clients in recent months because of rising immigration status anxiety.
DAPA, which would allow about 45 percent of undocumented immigrants to legally stay and work in the U.S., was placed under temporary injunction in February of this year due to objections from 26 states. This past August, Donald Trump made a speech during his Republican presidential campaign, insisting that all 11 million immigrants in the U.S. should be returned to their home countries.
A significant percentage of residents in Jackson Heights are undocumented immigrants, as reported by “Make The Road,” a non-profit immigration organization in New York state. Many of these undocumented immigrants have become either disheartened and fearful, refusing to visit law firms, or are anxious to know what they can do about their situation.
“Clients applied to become legal in the past don’t want to come back because of fear,” said Neha Shah, Chief Operating Officer at Pu Folkes Law Group. In the last two years, Pu Folkes’ clients have decreased by half, according to Shah. Some people, she said, packed up, and went back to their home countries to avoid being arrested.
Bryan Pu-Folkes, founder of the Pu Folkes Law Group, estimates he sees 20 undocumented immigrants in his office every month. He attributes the decline to the large demand created by Obama’s DAPA program, and the abortion of his plan. “That demand that came with it, of course, has gone away,” said Pu-Folkes.
On the other hand, Mercedes S. Cano, former President of the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County, and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said there has been a surge of people who pay for immigration consultation.
“People are more cautious, and they want to know what they can do,” explained Cano, who sees about 500 people a year, half of whom are undocumented immigrants.
Cano knows a lot of immigrants who think “it’s never going to happen.” A 35-year old man came to her the other day. He had entered the country illegally, and has a daughter who was born in the U.S. He asked Cano if there was anything he could do to legalize his status. According to Cano, the answer is no. He doesn’t stand a chance of legalizing his status, unless DAPA is justified.
Many people are said to be hiding, avoiding going to asylums, and waiting for the policy change. Some blame Donald Trump for making the situation worse.
“He’s breaking up the family. That’s going to be chaos,” said Nijila W. Brown, a real estate broker at Niko International Brokerage in Manhattan. Her husband, who immigrated from Mali and now works as a street merchant in Brooklyn and Queens, sells makeup and jewelry to make ends meet.
“If Donald Trump is elected as President, people will become more worried,” said an attorney at Sean Wright Law Offices. Neha Shah thinks there is a chance Trump could be elected president because of his business power.
Juan Vargas, who came from Puerto Rico to the U.S. in 1968, said Trump’s deportation plan can never happen. “He wants to outrage immigrants and get support from others,” said Vargas.
The Law Offices of Steinberg & Gruber believe that the immigration policy won’t improve for immigrants any time soon, at least not for the next ten years.
Pu-Folkes thinks the new immigration law can only be good, offering a chance for undocumented immigrants to legalize their status. “The question is whether we do it piecemeal, or comprehensively,” he said.
“Prepare in case it does come through,” Cano told her customers, instructing her clients to be patient, and wait for the Supreme Court’s decision on DAPA.
Kiron Bala Halder, originally from Bangladesh, owns a clothing store near the entrance to the Roosevelt Avenue train station. She expects to obtain a green card before her Visa expires in five years.
“My lifestyle here is good. I’m satisfied,” Halder said.
Not fluent in English, Halder admits she doesn’t know much about Donald Trump, and current immigration policy. Many people in the neighborhood, which has the highest poverty rate in New York City, are ignorant of immigration policies like Halder is.