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Kathy Castor works with immigration attorneys on DACA & DAPA

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Last week 14 states filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Obama administration, which is trying to counter a Texas judge’s preliminary injunction blocking the executive order on immigration Obama issued in November. Florida and 25 other Republican-led states have sued the administration over the order.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen‘s ruling last month put on hold key parts of Obama’s executive order that would temporarily remove the threat of deportation for some immigrants and give them permission to apply for work permits.

But that isn’t stopping advocates and attorneys who are getting prepared to work with undocumented immigrants when and if that order is removed.

On Friday, Tampa area U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor participated in workshop for immigration attorneys hosted by Gulf Coast Legal Services at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City campus. The focus was on working on getting those people who will be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or the new Deferred Legal Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).

“It’s very important while the executive actions are stayed by a federal court, there are so many avenues for help and legal status for many of our neighbors,” she told the group assembled. “So I think it’s incumbent upon us to really now go into those detailed interviews with those who could qualify for (DACA or DAPA). If you can get them on a path to legal status through one of these different avenues, that’s the way to go.”

Obama’s actions would expand the population eligible for DACA to people of any current age who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and lived in the U.S. continuously since January 1, 2010. It would also extend the period of DACA and work authorization from two years to three years. And it would allow parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to request deferred action and employment authorization for three years.

“This was all about reaching out to families all across the community,” Castor said afterwards. “To pastors, law enforcement and advocates that support many of our immigrant families, to make sure that they’re connected to legal avenues to become legal residents or citizens. You know, we have a real problem in this community with human trafficking, labor trafficking, people taking advantage of each other. (So) we want to make sure they’re aware of avenues for protection and maybe a visa so they can live and work here legally.”

The bottom line is that Castor says families who may be eligible for deferred status need to get their documents prepared now. But it’s not going to be for everyone.

“If you have violated the law, you’re a felon, you’ve broken the law in many other ways. That’s not going to be for you. You’re going to be deported from the U.S. But if you’ve been here and can apply for deferred status, then we want you to be ready when that happens.”

Castor said that the number one issues she deals with her constituents on in her district office in West Tampa is not about Social Security or veterans issues, but immigration-related problems. She says that there are approximately 3,000 Dream Act students in the Tampa Bay area who have been granted deferred status, which now means they can attend college in Florida with the same tuition rates that other Florida residents are able to, thanks to legislation passed last year by the Florida Legislature.

“This is a diverse community and the Tampa Bay area has a legacy and a history of diversity and whether it’s the immigrants that came to Ybor City over 100 years ago, or the waves of immigrants that have come all over the Latin America and all over the world, this has always been a place where we’ve achieved economic success based upon the diversity of our population. We want to see that continue.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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