BLOOMINGTON — Expansion of a federal program that defers deportation for parents who are in the country illegally is expected to keep lawyers with the local Immigration Project busy this year.

Executive Director Jasmine McGee said efforts are underway to help people understand changes in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program that could affect some of the estimated 2,500 McLean County residents in the U.S. illegally.

"The interest and demand for help with paperwork will definitely be there," said McGee, who took over as executive director several months ago.

McGee works with three other staff attorneys to assist a population of 53,000 residents in the country illegally who live outside the Cook and surrounding counties.

The new provision of the DACA program defers deportation for qualified parents of youths who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Parents must pass a criminal background check and have lived in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2010, for the deferral, which is renewable every three years.

The meetings hosted by The Immigration Project in six Illinois cities will give people guidance on what documents they need for the deferrals. Lawyers also will advise against scams by lawyers and others who take advantage of immigrants who are in the country illegally, said McGee.

"There is a concern with people taking $1,000 or $2,000 and they either don't file or file the wrong paperwork," said McGee.

Illinois put strict requirements in place about who may legally complete paperwork for a DACA application out of concern for such scams, said McGee.

While most of the 1,000 clients helped by the Bloomington office are Hispanic, the Twin Cities also has a substantial Indian and West African population that needs help with immigration issues, according to McGee.

Data released last year by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights indicates that 145,000 Illinois families have at least one parent who entered the country illegally. Of those families, 126,000 have at least one U.S.-born child and 107,000 report having only one U.S.-born children. 

The 13,000 downstate families with at least one parent who entered the U.S. illegally could be affected by the expansion of the DACA program.

"We're interviewing a lot of parents who have been here since the 1990s," said McGee.

Three of every four such immigrants in Illinois are between the ages of 25 and 44, according a the ICIRR.

The state's population of immigrants who entered the country illegally includes 58,000 children under 18 and 78,000 who are 18 to 24 years old.

The majority of the state's such immigrants are living in family households and about 30 percent are married and living with their own minor children, according to ICIRR.

The same benefits realized by youths under the DACA program will be available to parents, said Fred Tsao, ICIRR policy director.

"They will be able to get work permits, support their families and have opportunities for better employment," said Tsao. 

The anxiety felt by families who are at risk for being separated by deportation proceedings will be reduced, said Tsao.

McGee said her work as a lawyer comes when her clients realize they have postponed possible deportation. Although the DACA program does not equate to legal immigration status in the U.S., it does provide a sense of security, even if it's temporary, said McGee.

"Seeing how happy they are the moment they have residency in the U.S. and don't have to hide makes me feel really good," said McGee.

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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