EL PASO, Texas (AP) – Attorneys and immigration groups in Texas are setting up telethons and hotlines to serve immigrants who may qualify under a new White House plan to protect them from deportation.
Groups in Houston, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio, Austin and elsewhere also organized gatherings to watch President Barack Obama's speech Thursday night. He announced a plan that grants work permits to millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States and to protect them from deportation.
The announcement got a tepid reception at the El Paso offices of the Border Network for Human Rights. There activists and immigrants gathered to hear the simultaneous translation of Obama's speech on Univision.
"I am a mother of DREAMERS (children benefited by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program), they are not citizens. It was a great disappointment to hear I won't benefit from it. It's bland, he gave us a little taste but it had no taste," said Rosa Mejia, a native of Mexico who has been living in the United States illegally since 1999. She said she hoped the measure would not only be limited to parents of U.S. citizens.
Some said that the government is asking too much by requiring personal information from people who have lived in the shadows for years without giving a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency.
In San Antonio, the legal services group Raices was setting up hotlines so immigrants can talk to attorneys about what to expect from Obama's executive action. The Texas Organizing Project set up phone hotlines and a text service in which people can text "alivio," which means "relief," and someone will help answer their questions.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Charities of Dallas will host information sessions to let people who might be covered under the new immigration policy know whether they can apply for it and what documents to gather.
Jenna Carl, the group's deputy director of immigration and legal services, said she didn't know yet how many people would qualify under Obama's plan. But she said she told her staff to prepare, because the number of immigrants seeking their services could likely be "huge."
There are an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. Obama announced plans that shield as many as 5 million immigrants from deportation. The broadest action stemming from his executive authority could extends to parents of U.S. citizens, as long as those parents have been in the country for five years. Republicans plan to fight the actions. GOP leaders, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have threatened litigation.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott pledged to challenge the executive order in court.
"Following tonight's pronouncement, I am prepared to immediately challenge President Obama in court, securing our state's sovereignty and guaranteeing the rule of law as it was intended under the Constitution," Abbot said in a statement Thursday night.
Nearly 1.8 million immigrants were living in Texas illegally as of 2011, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security. That represented 16 percent of the state's population.
Texas doesn't make state benefits available to people in the country illegally, though Perry signed the so-called Texas DREAM Act in 2001 that gives in-state tuition to immigrant students. Gov.-elect Greg Abbott favors a repeal. Immigrants in Texas illegally cannot get a driver's permit, and Abbott has signaled opposition to the idea.
When the government announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012 that gave young people who entered the country illegally as children protection from deportation, hundreds of people showed up at the Catholic Charities offices seeking legal advice and information.
Organizers in Texas are also teaming with local television stations to host telethons where people can call and get information from attorneys on what to expect.
Alain Cisneros, a community organizer with the Texas Organizing Project, said in a statement that the organization wants "all immigrants who qualify to know that the process of applying for administrative relief is going to take time, and that anyone who offers immediate help with the paperwork in exchange for money is probably not to be trusted."
In the past, when immigration reform or other types of relief have been announced, immigrants have fallen prey to scammers promising immediate relief.