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Mexico is helping some of its citizens apply for a controversial immigration program started by President Obama. The program is, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program allows more than half-a-million unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to legally work and avoid deportation for at least two years. But high fees have kept many who are eligible from applying. So the Mexican government has been paying some application fees. Hansi Lo Wang of NPR's Code Switch team has this story.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Thirty-year-old Tania Guzman worried before she applied for deportation relief - especially about the cost.
TANIA GUZMAN: It was a big factor because, you know, $465, there goes $465. To go and apply, plus whatever you're going to get charged for being helped and I was struggling. How am I going to do that?
WANG: Guzman finally managed it last October with help from the Mexican consulate in LA. It set aside a quarter million dollars to help, so far, more than 260 Mexican citizens, like Guzman, who crossed the border illegally into California when she was seven years old. Guzman says she's only paid $50, the rest of her attorneys and filing fees were covered by Mexico.
GUZMAN: We are here, basically, not doing anything for our country I will say, so it's a great thing to know that even though you're not in Mexico you still get help from them.
JULIAN ESCUTIA: If it's a program that helps youth to work in this country, well that helps our nationals and that helps us.
WANG: Julian Escutia oversees national programs for Mexico's 50 consulates around the U.S. He says the Mexican embassy in Washington D.C. does not keep track of how many DACA applicants their consulates have funded nationwide, but he stresses that assistance is given based on need. Escutia says paying for a DACA applications is just one way Mexican consulates are trying to support their citizens living in the U.S.
WANG: Why help Mexican nationals find ways to stay in the United States?
ESCUTIA: Well, that is not the main objective. Our main objective is the well-being of our nationals wherever they are. So what we want for them is that they are successful and really continue contributing to this country.
WANG: The U.S.
ESCUTIA: The U.S.
WANG: An official with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which reviews DACA applications, tells NPR that foreign governments are not restricted from providing filing fee because the agency has, quote, "no way of knowing where any fees might have originated." DACA has sparked heated debate in Congress, with House Republicans questioning whether President Obama has the constitutional authority to enact the program. Escutia says the controversy is a domestic issue for the U.S. to sort out.
ESCUTIA: We are not entering into the political debate about DACA.
WANG: You don't see this as being part of that? This is just part of your consulate services.
ESCUTIA: It's one option that is available to our nationals and if they choose to apply for it we are certainly happy to help them.
EMILY EDMONDS-POLI: It's completely understandable that it would raise an eyebrow or two.
WANG: Emily Edmonds-Poli teaches Mexican politics at the University of San Diego. She says Mexico's support for DACA applicants may seem counterintuitive, but for the Mexican government it's a good long-term investment in than 9 percent of people born in Mexico now living in the U.S.
EDMONDS-POLI: I think the message that it's trying to send is that the Mexican government supports its population living in the United States.
WANG: But Edmonds-Poli adds she doesn't think that's the message that will be received by everyone in the U.S. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.
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