Tag: Lending Circles for Dreamers

How MAF launched the largest DACA renewal campaign in 3 days

The Trump Administration ended DACA on September 5, 2017, igniting a wave of anguish and fear in communities throughout the country. Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of young people came out of the shadows to register for the DACA program hoping that that would be the first step to becoming full participants in the U.S., the country many know as their only home. Despite the dark cloud of uncertainty in their lives, young immigrants are rising up, full of hope. They are organizing the social justice movement of our generation, advocating for a DREAM Act that would give young immigrants a path to citizenship, and pushing for comprehensive immigration reforms to help millions of undocumented immigrants as well.

I was boarding a flight at the crack of dawn to Los Angeles when the Trump Administration announced that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Since 2012, this program has provided young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children – commonly referred to as “Dreamers” – with protection from deportation and work permits. Scrolling through the headlines, I knew it would be a rough day. Not only was the Administration ending DACA, but it was doing so in a ridiculously cruel way. The announcement ended DACA for new applicants – many of whom were high school students who dreamed of pursuing higher education using DACA – while giving those already with DACA just one month to submit applications to renew their status if their work authorization ended by March 5, 2018. Dreamers were left to learn about the announcement on their own and determine whether or not they qualified.

154,000 Dreamers could extend their protective status for two more years. But they didn’t get any letters or receive a phone call. There was no outreach to encourage them to renew.

Immigrant communities and advocates were outraged by the announcement. Protests erupted in cities across the country. People were angry, and rightly so. Our government was breaking a promise made by President Obama that had radically improved the lives of the 800,000 young immigrants enrolled in the program. For years Congress had both acknowledged the need to reform America’s broken immigration system, but failed to do so, leaving millions of immigrants unable to come out of the shadows. DACA was a small, temporary solution for young people as we waited for Congress to fix our broken system.

Sessions announces DACA will end

Sessions announces DACA will end

No official notification from the government

No official notification from the government

Dreamers say this is akin to psychological torture

Dreamers say this is akin to psychological torture

In 2012, President Obama gave the executive order to establish DACA, under which the federal government promised not to deport immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were enrolled in school, had graduated from high school, or were honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S.  Instead, the government would grant them permission to work and provide them with Social Security numbers. In return, Dreamers would register with the Department of Homeland Security and provide them with all of their personal information. Like the 800,000 Dreamers who registered for DACA, at MAF, we too believed in that promise—that they could live openly in the light of day.

When President Obama first created DACA, we started providing zero-interest loans to finance the high application fee (now $495). We worked with over 1,000 Dreamers in the last 5 years. For MAF, this was personal.

We witnessed the benefits of DACA on a daily basis. With DACA, we saw first-hand that our clients were better supporting themselves and their families by accessing higher paying jobs. They opened bank accounts and began saving. By every metric, DACA propelled them forward, unleashing their creative energy and human potential. With DACA, some of our clients enrolled in school, became doctors or nurses. Others, like Gustavo, secured better-paying jobs. He stopped cleaning houses and was able to get work as a Wells Fargo bank teller serving the Latino community

I spent the next day in Los Angeles, fielding emails and trying to think through next steps. Thursday morning, I was back in the MAF’s office where we had our first post-announcement staff meeting. We talked about our options, trying to figure out how to proceed. Doing nothing was not an option. Without knowing exactly how, on that morning we resolved to help as many Dreamers as possible to renew their status.

Dreamers only had four weeks to renew before the October 5 deadline, so every minute mattered. With that in mind, we agreed to offer zero-interest loans, but on a much larger scale than ever before. We were going national with these loans. This would be a huge operational challenge for us for two reasons. First, up until this point, we’d only financed DACA application fees for Dreamers in California. Second, although MAF is a national organization, we work through a network of nonprofit partners to serve clients outside of California. For the sake of efficiency, we needed to outreach to and directly serve clients all over the U.S., regardless of geography- for the first time ever.

We set a goal to finance 1,000 applications in 30 days – the same number of loans we had provided in the last five years.

I began contacting funders to solicit support for our new loan fund.  We needed $500,000, and fast. While I was working the phones for funding, MAF staff members were working furiously to operationalize the new loan fund. Our communications team built a new website specifically for the DACA renewal loans, complete with a clock that tracked the number of minutes left before the window to apply for renewal closed. Our tech team streamlined our existing loan application by stripping out any information that wasn’t absolutely essential to processing the loan requests, and built a system for rapidly reviewing and confirming an applicant’s eligibility to renew at this time.

By the end of that first week, we’d secured a million dollars in commitments from the Weingart Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Chavez Family Foundation, and Tipping Point Community. With their support, we doubled our original goal accordingly and aimed to help 2,000 DACA recipients to apply for renewal. It was an absurdly ambitious and risky goal, one that could put MAF’s finances in a potential cash-flow crisis. But we had to do it. If ever there was a time to put it all on the line, it was now.

 

One week after the announcement to end DACA, we were ready to launch the new loan fund. We had 21 days until the deadline.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 12, we sent a series of emails and press releases to media outlets, colleagues, funders, and immigrant rights activists. I was in New Jersey that day, preparing to deliver a keynote address later that evening, when I received a call from Fred Ali, the Chief Executive Officer of the Weingart Foundation, asking us to consider offering grants instead of loans. He argued that the urgency and gravity of the situation necessitated grants and that loans, even at zero interest, would pose a barrier to some Dreamers. I was reluctant to make the shift right after launching the campaign, but hearing his commitment to work with us made it easier to take the plunge. Thanks to Fred, a new path forward opened for us.

I quickly called MAF’s leadership team and we agreed to revise our strategy. We re-launched the campaign later that day offering $495 scholarships to DACA recipients who needed to renew. By Thursday, September 14, just two days after launching the campaign, we received more than 2,000 applications. The campaign’s website briefly crashed due to the heavy traffic. We were ecstatic at the response, but the overwhelming interest created a number of new operational challenges. First, there was a very real possibility that we would run out of money. Part of the problem was timing. While we had secured commitments from funders, we had not received the money in our bank account. We had to front MAF’s general operating money while funders worked through their approval and disbursement processes.

Just 48 hours into the campaign, the first 2,000 applicants had already claimed all of the $1,000,000 in DACA grant funds.

I remember the conversations with my leadership team about how to proceed as some of the most nerve-racking of the entire campaign. We were literally watching the clock, counting down the hours until we would run out of money. That night, we considered shutting down the program. Very quickly, we’d met our goal of helping 2,000 Dreamers, which was already double what we’d originally planned for. But the truth was that we could not stop. Ending DACA was a national emergency, and we refused to abandon our community in the midst of it.

We considered reverting back to zero-interest loans. But we didn’t want to do that either. It would have been extremely complicated and confusing. Instead, we changed our messaging to alleviate some pressure. We started encouraging applicants to first consider asking for support from friends or family members before requesting funds from MAF. We trusted that those who could self-select out of the process would do so, in turn reducing demand and increasing the likelihood that we would assist those most in need. We agreed that I’d work the phones to push for more funding.

Mohan printing hundreds of checks

Mohan printing hundreds of checks

The "Situation Room" in action

The "Situation Room" in action

Dina, a special ed teacher, picks up her check

Dina, a special ed teacher, picks up her check

Ultimately, through the course of the campaign we raised $4 million dollars, eight times more than our initial goal. While I’d like to say that the money was a response to my exceptional fundraising skills, that wasn’t the case.

Funders understood the urgency of the situation, and many of them were able to expedite their approval processes – which usually takes months – into just hours or days. Fred Ali was working the phones too; he contacted his colleagues at other foundations, vouching for us and asking that they consider supporting the campaign. And like Fred, we had so many other funders working behind the scenes, calling colleagues and allies they knew would care and could commit quickly. Many of them contributed to the renewal fund, increasing our goal to helping 6,000 Dreamers renew their DACA status. Aside from the funding and cash flow challenges, we were now faced with a slew of major operational ones.

In theory, the process to deliver funds to applicants was simple. MAF would write a check to the Department of Homeland Security for $495, and mail it to the applicant, who would include it in their application package. But in practice, we hit wall after wall. For starters, there was the question of how to cut so many checks so quickly. During the earliest days of the campaign, when we were receiving upwards of 800 applications a day, I was traveling for work and our Chief Operating Officer was in Chile. Because we are the only two people authorized to sign MAF checks, this created an immediate bottleneck.

Our first workaround was a signature stamp. Aparna Ananthasubramaniam, Research and Technology Director, confirmed with our bank would recognize a stamp, got me onboard with the idea with a few days, but even that was too slow.

 With applications coming in by the hundreds each day; and seeing our target go from 3,000 to 4,000, and then finally to 6,000 renewals, we needed to find a better alternative.

Within a few days, we outsourced the task to a third-party processor to manage the bulk of the work, allowing us to focus on the approval process and applications that needed individual attention. This was a huge weight off of our shoulders. Just like with cutting checks, mailing them sounded straightforward but proved enormously difficult. Prior to this campaign, MAF had never primarily communicated with clients via snail mail. Consequently, we didn’t have much  experience sending large volumes of mail, and didn’t realize that it is both an art and a science, until it was almost too late.

Our original plan had been to send the checks via priority mail. To do this we needed the appropriate “priority mail” envelopes, which are available for purchase at every post office. So, on that first day, Mohan Kanungo, Director of Programs & Engagement, drove to the nearest post office to buy supplies. However, there weren’t enough envelopes for the hundreds of checks we needed to mail. So, he drove to another one. And then another.

Soon, MAF staff and their loved ones were driving all over the Bay Area to raid post office supplies.  At one point, Mohan charged $2,400 worth of mailing supplies to his personal credit card.

He couldn’t use a company card because he’d given it to a fellow MAF staffer who was using it to purchase supplies at other post offices. Because we were new to bulk mailings, we also didn’t know that there is a specific way you are supposed to do them. MAF staff showed up with huge boxes of envelopes, figuring we would mail them the way we would any other letter. Turns out that our method was extremely inefficient because the post office had no way to processes the envelopes in bulk. Rather, each one had to be processed individually, which took approximately 1 – 2 minutes, meaning mailing hundreds of envelopes could take hours.

No one was happy about this. The postal workers were frustrated by the massive inconvenience it caused them because they were understaffed, too. We were upset with ourselves, as well. MAF staff had to remain at the post office for hours at a time while each letter was processed. It was time we didn’t have. Soon postal workers simply began refusing to process our mailings. Staff would get rejected at one post office and drive to another in the hopes they could mail it from there. Or they’d split a large mailing into a couple of smaller ones that would be less onerous to process, and get them out that way

Tara Robinson, Chief Development Officer, called the local office of the regional representative of the United States Postal Service, where she spoke with a woman in the business service network department. Tara asked her, “Do you know about the Dreamers?” She said, “Yes!” After explaining what MAF was doing and why there was such a time crunch, the postal worker worker jumped into action. We found our advocate. That same day, she organized a conference call with supervisors from numerous area post offices during which she instructed them to accept all of MAF’s mailings. Our postal shero explained how to create a manifest for our mail so that the postal workers could scan all of our envelopes in bulk instead of individually. She also provided the direct name and number of the Postmaster General if we ran into more problems.

Fueling our anxiety was the fact that we had promised applicants a response within 48 hours of submitting the initial application.

Initially, we thought that 48 hours was a relatively fast turnaround time. But in a time of crisis, 48 hours can feel like forever. Our office was constantly flooded with calls, emails, Facebook messages, and in-person visits, from applicants wanting to confirm that we had received their request and wanting to know when to expect the check.

Every single person on staff was answering phones and fielding inquiries – including me. We were woefully understaffed to field the volume of inquiries we were receiving, and decided we needed a more transparent and robust set of communications with our applicants. Aparna drafted a series of emails that would be automatically sent to applicants as their application worked its way through our process. One email was sent to confirm receipt of the application; another was sent to confirm that we had all of the necessary materials to review it; a third went out to confirm that it was approved; and a final email was sent confirming when to expect the check. We even created another automated email to tell applicants to expect another email soon with tracking information. It seems over the top, but these email communications considerably lowered the call volume.

While the automated communications helped to significantly reduce the volumes of calls and emails we received, we remained severely understaffed relative to the workload. We hired temporary staff but quickly realized that wasn’t going to work due to the nature of the highly sensitive information we were processing. So, we turned to our friends and colleagues, including La Cocina, and other key allies at Salesforce and Tipping Point, all of whom excused staff from work and sent them to our office to volunteer.

Then the office of the Governor of Washington contacted us and said “We heard you were the nationwide provider of DACA scholarships. We have an anonymous donor in the state of Washington. Can you process $125,000 of scholarships for our residents?”

Hundreds of organizations – both small and big – helped us to spread the word. There were videos, memes, vloggers and even a social media sweepstake sponsored by the Clever Girls Collaborative. The President of the University of California sent several press releases and social media messages to inform students about the scholarships, as did the President of the California Community Colleges. Without solicitation from our team, some funders approached us asking how they could support the initiative. Across the country, immigrant rights groups and legal aid organizations we’d never worked with before were advertising our renewal fund to their clients.

Spreading the word beyond the Bay Area was important because many of those organizations were operating in communities that lacked support for Dreamers, either because of the local political climate or because they were in rural, isolated areas, like Mississippi and Utah. We attribute a lot of our ability to reach these communities to incredible responses from both the media and social media. The campaign received more than 1,000,000 social media hits, and more than 100 media mentions, including coverage in New York Times, NPR, and Washington Post, among other prominent outlets.

We were humbled to give $3.8M to 7,678 Dreamers – making this the largest DACA renewal fund in the nation.

In the fall of 2017, MAF provided $2,513,610 to fund 5,078 DACA renewal applications in 46 states – that’s 6.7 percent of all renewal applications submitted. That means we funded one out of every ten Dreamers in the state of California who applied for a renewal, including 16 percent of all applicants in the Bay Area. And in January 2018, days after U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s injunction, MAF issued an additional 2,600 grants to Dreamers.

As one Bay Area legal aid attorney told me, “Again and again and again, Dreamers walked into our offices to apply for a renewal with a MAF check in hand.”

Over the past several months, all of us at MAF have spent a lot of time reflecting on the campaign, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, and how the experience should shape our work moving forward. The campaign is a bittersweet victory. In terms of impact, we exceeded our wildest ambitions. We stood as a beacon of love and support for immigrants at a time when so many of our friends, families, and clients felt under attack. Nonetheless, as an organization we have struggled to celebrate the campaign because it represents the end of DACA. We believe in an America that is so much better than this, and remain stunned and absolutely livid that the Trump Administration ended DACA without offering a permanent legislative solution, leaving millions of young immigrants and their families in anguish. Living with that sort of pain is difficult. For all the sadness and disgust that we have felt in response to the Trump Administration’s actions, we have also discovered a deeper and more powerful resolve. While I know each MAFista took away something personal from the experience, we share these overarching lessons:

1. Timing is everything.

Proven solutions – no matter how great – are not always the *right* solution for every situation. We launched our fund with loans because making loans is what we do, and we do it well. But given the urgency of the DACA crisis – when we didn’t have time to deal with even the most modest of underwriting processes – loans simply weren’t the right product. At the beginning, we were so steeped in our history that we couldn’t see beyond loans. It took an outsider to open the door to the possibility of scholarships. However, once that door opened, we were flexible, ready to embrace the alternative approach, and operationalize it quickly.

2. Technology is critical to scale.

Time and time again throughout our campaign, we resolved bottlenecks and scaled services with technology. We engaged applicants throughout the country by creating a secure online application through our Salesforce CRM that people could complete and submit to us within minutes. We created automated emails to keep Dreamers informed and engaged throughout the application process. We outsourced the process of cutting checks to clients by building an electronic applicant database that we emailed to our third-party processor. Without question, absent technology, we could not troubleshoot obstacles in real time, and we would have been much more constrained in our ability to reach communities outside the Bay Area.

3. Trust is imperative to success.

Dreamers were willing to share their personal information with MAF – despite the climate of fear in which they were operating – because they knew that we were – and are – on their side. Similarly, funders, including ones that had previously never worked with us, were willing to bet big on us because they trusted their colleagues who vouched for us. Likewise, nonprofits referred their clients to us knowing that we were going to do right by them. All of this happened fast and trust was the key to making the campaign successful.

4. Uncertainty can be your friend.

As nonprofits, we plan our work over the course of years. We create theories of change, strategic plans, and budgets to demonstrate our good stewardship and fiscal management. In normal times, these tried and true practices help mark our progress towards achieving goals. I get it. But we’re not in normal times. In moments like these, no matter how perfect our plans are, the fact is that the fate of millions of families hang in the balance with the next incendiary tweet from Trump. We really don’t know the nature, or extent, of the next Trump-created crisis. This type of uncertainty necessitates a willingness and ability to take the ever-changing political climate into account, and change programmatic strategies accordingly.

The fight for social justice is long. We now have at least 7,600 more people ready to join the battle.

Press Release: 2,000 Dreamers to receive DACA renewal scholarships

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact:
(888) 274-4808 x206
[email protected]

$1,000,000 Fund Announced to Help Dreamers Renew DACA by October 5

San Francisco, CA – September 13, 2017 – Mission Asset Fund (MAF) today announced it will provide $1,000,000 in scholarships to 2,000+ Dreamers to pay for DACA renewals by the October 5 deadline.

Last week, the Trump administration announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program is ending. DACA has provided security, safety, and a livelihood for 800,000 young people commonly known as “Dreamers.” Of the 154,000 Dreamers eligible to renew their DACA permits before the program ends in six months, most will be able to cover the application costs themselves. For those Dreamers who are eligible for renewal but can’t afford the $495 application fee, MAF is stepping in with a solution now available nationwide: scholarships to help Dreamers renew their DACA status (LC4DACA.org).

Between now and the October 5 deadline, MAF will provide 2,000 Dreamers with scholarships of $495 to renew their DACA permit. Capital to finance these scholarships come from the DACA Renewal Fund, launched this week with growing support from the philanthropic community.

“We were shocked and horrified to learn that President Trump ended DACA,” says José Quiñonez, MAF’s CEO and 2016 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. He added, “We sprang into action once we saw a small window of opportunity to help thousands of Dreamers to renew their protective status. The time to help these young people is now.”

DACA recipients with a permit expiring between now and March 5 across the nation are eligible to receive the scholarships. $500,000 of the fund is being specifically targeted to California students attending community colleges, at California State Universities, and the University of California. As time is of the essence, this online scholarship will be processed within a day, with same-day checks available in San Francisco and by overnight mail in other parts of the country.

MAF has a long history of working with Dreamers and has helped hundreds to pay for DACA application fees using a 0% interest loan. This initiative—offering scholarships within 24-48 hours to Dreamers—builds on this track record of success. DACA recipients with expiring permits are encouraged to visit LC4DACA.org and apply immediately.

Philanthropic supporters of this fund include: the Weingart Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The Chavez Family Foundation, and San Francisco Foundation.

About MAF

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) is a 501c3 nonprofit on a mission to help people become visible, active, and successful in their financial lives. Over 7,000 people across the country have used MAF’s award-winning financial services programs to increase credit scores, pay down debt, and save for important goals like becoming a homeowner, a student, or a U.S. citizen. MAF currently manages a national network of over 50 Lending Circles providers in 17 states and Washington, D.C.

Law School & Tamales: DACA Opens Doors for Kimberly


With the help of Lending Circles for DACA, Kimberly is finishing her degree and prepping her law school applications — all while helping her mom and sister grow their family tamale business.

It’s hard to miss Ynes’s tamale stand.

On weekday mornings in a quiet Oakland neighborhood, you’ll find all the energy of a street market packed into one small food cart. “I was about to get breakfast across the street, then I saw you all!” shouted one of Ynes’s regulars as she approached the cart.

For years Ynes and her daughters, Kimberly and Maria, have been coming to the same spot to serve up authentic Mexican tamales. Ynes and her husband moved to Oakland from Cabo San Lucas 20 years ago to create a new life, with more opportunities for their young daughters.

From an early age, Kimberly was determined to make the most of these opportunities.

Kimberly is one of the many thousands of young people who have used Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to attend college and secure jobs. And she’s one of the hundreds who have used Lending Circles for DREAMers to fund their DACA applications.

But before DACA, many doors were closed to her.

As a child, Kimberly worked hard in school and ultimately graduated with the grades she needed to go to a 4-year university. But because she wasn’t born in the US, she didn’t qualify for financial aid or even in-state tuition. Instead, she enrolled in a local community college that she could afford to pay out-of-pocket.

One evening, Kimberly saw a segment on Univision that would change everything: a profile of a local nonprofit that provides social loans to help immigrants build credit and apply for DACA. Hoping this could be the key to her dream school, she came to our office to learn more.

Two years ago, Kimberly joined her first Lending Circle.

Right off the bat, she found MAF’s financial management training extremely helpful. “In school they teach you how to do math problems and write papers, but they don’t teach you about credit,” she said. Next, with her Lending Circles loan and a $232.50 match from the SF Mexican Consulate, she applied for DACA and was soon approved.

Her new status lifted the barriers that had been holding her back from her dreams.

Kimberly could finally access the financial aid she needed to transfer to San Francisco State University. She was hired for two part-time jobs. And with better credit, she secured a loan to buy new equipment for her family’s business: tables, chairs, and canopies so their customers to sit and socialize.

Today, Kimberly is finishing her degree in political science at SFSU — and her second Lending Circle.

She’s giving back to her community by volunteering at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, an organization that supports refugees and immigrants in the Bay Area. She’s also studying for the LSAT and preparing her law school applications, working toward a career in immigration and family law.

And all the while, she’s helping her mom grow their family’s food cart business.

Kimberly and her sister Maria are still by their mother’s side, serving tamales to an ever-growing clientele. What’s next for the family business? With an improved credit history, they’re seeking a larger loan to expand their operations with a second food cart. Ultimately, Ynes dreams of opening a restaurant to bring her delicious tamales to even more eager, hungry customers.

Doing More with Partners


MAF is partnering with the Mexican Consulate to offer Mexican DREAMers an Exciting Opportunity.

MAF is thrilled to announce a new partnership with the Mexican Consulate in SF to support Mexican nationals applying to DACA through the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program. Through this program, DREAMers are offered a zero-interest loan to help finance the cost of the $465 DACA application fee while building credit history and gaining access to financial education.

MAF’s Lending Circles for Deferred Action program was created to help low-income DREAMers overcome the cost barrier of applying for three-year relief from deportation after Obama’s announcement of executive action on November 20, 2014.

The government is taking a step forward for immigration action and we are ready to help families who need the financial support to apply for administrative relief.

Thanks to the Consulate General, up to 150 DREAMers of Mexican nationality will have the special opportunity to receive a 50% match, making applying for Deferred Action through Lending Circles an even better value! Participants like Alan Santos have already benefited from the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program.

As one of the first Lending Circle for Deferred Action participants, Alan is able to pursue his education and work as an advocate for undocumented youth. He hopes to become an immigration lawyer to alleviate the confusion and pain many youth go through in the Deferred Action application process.

MAF is looking forward reaching more hardworking families and youth like Alan with the support of the Mexican Consulate.

If you’re interesting in applying for the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program, visit lendingcircles.org and submit an application to MAF. Look out for enrollment and formation dates beginning this month.

For organizations currently working with DREAMers, you can learn more about how to get involved with the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program here. 

Lending Circles for Deferred Action Expands in LA


Bringing financial support to immigrants seeking Deferred Action

With President Obama’s recent announcement on Deferred Action, the need to focus our attention on the financial needs of immigrant communities is greater than ever. New reforms enable an additional 5 million immigrants the potential to apply for Deferred Action. Having already harnessed partnerships in 10 states and D.C to offer credit-building opportunities, MAF is ready to do the same for those now looking to apply for this new program.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, MAF will be partnering with the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), Korean Resource Center and Pilipino Workers Center to expand its award-winning Lending Circles program for individuals seeking Deferred Action in the Los Angeles area.

The Lending Circles for Deferred Action program will allow 300 eligible applicants access to zero-interest loans to finance the cost of the Deferred Action application fee by 33% (from $465 to $310) while also building their credit.

MAF has already seen the impact of getting Deferred Action with our own clients in the San Francisco Bay Area. In our seven years of operations, we have assisted over 300 clients in successfully applying for Deferred Action. Members like Itzel and Jesus have used Lending Circles to move towards their goals of accessing an affordable education and becoming advocates in the community.

“MAOF is excited to expand its current relationship with Mission Asset Fund by offering the Lending Circles for Dreamers Program,” says Martin Castro, President and CEO of the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation.

“As a distinguished agency serving the Los Angeles Community, MAOF is looking forward to offering a program that will assist people who have arrived into our country as children and are looking to pursue their dreams. The Lending Circles for Dreamers Program brings needed assistance to residents of Los Angeles who would like to apply for deferred action but have not due to financial hardships.”

Tune into the National Immigrant Integration Conference in LA today at 11:45 a.m. to hear the formal announcement by our Director of Engagement, Mohan Kanungo, and CEO, Jose Quinonez.

Calling all Dreamers


Jesus Castro shares his own story and hopes it inspires others to apply for DACA.

One of the things I find so empowering about our work at MAF is seeing young leaders follow their passion and give back to the community. Jesus Castro is one of those leaders who joined Lending Circle for Dreamers and has gone on to advocate for immigrant youth. I interviewed him about an exciting public service announcement he has developed with the SF Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to raise awareness about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

How did you get involved with the SF Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs?

The first time I came in contact with the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA), or more specifically OCEIA’s director, Adrienne Pon, was at the Coro Annual Luncheon. After giving a speech on how Coro’s Exploring Leadership Program changed my life, several people came up to me to congratulate me, and discuss my career path, I was really honored. A couple minutes after Director Pon approached me and I think she stood out to me the most because of her offices name. I am very passionate about the fight for immigrants and, their name being The Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant affairs just caught my eye right away that’s when I knew that I wanted to get that internship more than anything.

What was the purpose of the PSA video?

The PSA’s purpose was to create a useful outreach tool to educate people about DACA and encourage them to come forward and apply. We were also hoping to incorporate it in our one year of DACA event this in celebration of DACA’s one year anniversary, so in response this PSA video came into play. During the process there were some hiccups and the video was delayed but with help from an awesome friend, and my own little grain of sand the video was finally completed and it’s now on YouTube. The video is also posted on our dreamSF website.

How did you feel sharing your personal story in the video?

Sharing my story is something that I really enjoy doing not only because it empowers others to share their stories, but also because it also gives me the strength and courage to keep sharing my story.  It’s a domino effect they need a little courage from others to share their stories, and these people’s positive feedback gives the person telling their story the courage to keep doing sharing.

What are some reasons DACA eligible youth have not applied yet?

I can’t know for sure and I can’t speak on behalf of those who haven’t yet applied for DACA, but if I were to guess why they haven’t applied I would say it’s because of the fact that they don’t have the money to do so. The cost to apply for DACA is $465 which is a huge investment and many people are also unfamiliar with the application process and what it takes to renew, so we need to provide the right educational and financial resources.

How did you find out about MAF?

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) has definitely played a huge role in my life. The first time I heard about them was through Legal Services for Children, the organization that helped me with my DACA application process. They suggested that I go to MAF for financial assistance because at the time they were offering a $155 scholarship for DACA applicants on top of their lending services to pay for the DACA application. I joined what they call Lending Circles for Dreamers were I got a step by step on filling in the application in order to receive the check that would pay for my application. Now, the program offers participants an opportunity to get a group loan and save so you can pay for your application.

What are some other ways the city is trying to assist immigrants?

Specifically, our office is assisting immigrants with language access, naturalization services and in terms of DACA youth/adult immigrants, we are launching a dreamsf fellows program that is specifically for DACA approved people and we have a Pathways to Citizenship initiative.

What are your hopes for comprehensive immigration reform?

A comprehensive immigration reform would be exceptional for all immigrants that currently reside in the U.S. I’m sure this comprehensive reform is around the corner but we just all have to make an effort in the process and show an interest in it. We currently have DACA but what about our parents and those who don’t meet the requirements for DACA? Not every undocumented person qualifies for DACA so many families are being broken up while immigration reforms is at a standstill. We need to move forward or our communities suffer.

What does civic engagement mean to you and how it is important in your life?

To me, it’s the 2nd chapter to my story. I have been with OCEIA for 2 years now and it’s really a home away from home. I can’t thank Director Pon enough for giving me the opportunity to be part of her team. Since the beginning of my internship the work has been tough, and I mean that in the most thankful way. Thankful because from all the work that I have done I know feel better prepared me for whatever other job comes my way. I also want to thank Richard Whipple he has been there every step of the way. He not only guides me through work challenges but also through life’s challenges. Although I have done a lot with OCEIA, this is only the beginning.  I am still looking forward to many years with them, and as OCEIA grows, I will as well.


Nesima Aberra is the Marketing Associate and New Sector Fellow at Mission Asset Fund. She loves storytelling, social good and a good cup of tea. You can reach her at [email protected].

California DREAMing: DACA and the making of an American dream


MAF member, Ju Hong, talks about Mr. Hyphen and the American Dream.

Ju Hong is a man of few limitations. He is a research assistant with Harvard University, on the National UnDACAmented Research Project (NURP), a coordinator at the Men’s Center on the Laney College Campus, a graduate student at San Francisco State University and newly crowned Mr. Hyphen.

Ju is the ideal of the American Dream, Ju is undocumented. He came to the United States from South Korea when he was younger with his mother who wanted a better life for her children.

“My mother works two jobs at restaurant, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and never had a vacation ever since she arrived to this country. She is tough,” says Ju.

As an undocumented student, Ju was unable to get a job, access financial aid, and get a driver’s license. Ju took his mother’s example and decided he was going to work as hard as he could to make her proud. That’s when Ju heard about a contest hosted by Hyphen Magazine. With this contest, he saw a chance to bring visibility to the lives of undocumented immigrant populations.

Creating Visibility

“Hyphen magazine was a great avenue to highlight a critical immigration issue. One out of seven Korean immigrants are undocumented. Asians are now the largest group of new immigrants in this country. The AAPI community cannot ignore this issue. In fact, the AAPI community should engage in the conversation and join in efforts to push for a fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform.”

Of the 11 million undocumented people in the United States, 1.3 million are Asian, many of whom are youth who have lived most of their lives in the United States. But it costs $680 just to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a substantial barrier standing in the way of for hardworking families like Hong’s.

A Circle of Support

When Ju first came to Mission Asset Fund he was looking for a way to build his credit now that his DACA application was approved, and access the financial education he needed to succeed. During the Lending Circle program Ju gained the financial skills, money, and credit he needed.

“I decided to apply for the Lending Circles program with five other undocumented students. The Lending Circle has given me an opportunity to better understand credit, loan programs, and finance in general.”

Ju received DACA, his work authorization and driver’s license. Now, Ju has started making plans for the future. He no longer feels the stigma and pressure of being undocumented, and he wants to make sure that no one has to feel that way either. After he finishes his graduate studies at San Francisco State, he plans on working to make immigrant communities healthier and happier through public service.

This is a dream that is driven by his admiration for his mother. “My mother is my best friend, my mentor, and my role model. One day, I want to be like my mother, becoming more of a risk taker, hard-worker, and never giving up on a dream.”

A dream no longer deferred

Edgar did something a few weeks ago that he had been dreaming of for the past two years. On a sunny day in San Francisco’s Mission District, Edgar walked into the Social Security Administration Office and began to fill out an application. You may remember Edgar and his partner Gustavo from when they were first profiled in the Bay Area Reporter. Mission Asset Fund and The Bay Area Reporter have been closely following Edgar and Gustavo’s two year journey.

Edgar and Gustavo had been chasing the American dream for most of their lives. A dream, that until recently, they thought could never come true. As children, they immigrated with their parents to the United States seeking opportunities and a better life. When they arrived they joined 11 million other undocumented immigrants living in the United States trying to get by.

Edgar and Gustavo at the Mission Asset Fund Office (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Chasing the American Dream

Two years ago, Edgar never thought he would one day be on track to realize his American Dream. Gustavo and Edgar’s lives had been severely limited by their undocumented status.  Edgar’s childhood dream of being a teacher had been put on indefinite hold after high school. He had been accepted to U.C. Berkeley, but was unable to enroll because undocumented students cannot access conventional loans or federal financial student aid.

Once joining the working world, Edgar was an exemplary employee, earning the respect of his coworkers and was recognized by his supervisors for his strong work ethic. All of this fell apart when he was offered a promotion. Edgar was unable to produce the documentation that the company requested and he was forced to leave

Gustavo was also unable to attend college and could only secure work after high school cleaning people’s houses, laboring for long hours and little pay.

Another challenge Edgar faced as an undocumented immigrant was being separated from his two young children. Without documentation, neither Gustavo nor Edgar can get on a plane to bring them home to San Francisco. Gustavo has only been able to talk with his children periodically on the phone. Gustavo and Edgar wait for the day that they would be reunited with the children to make their family whole.

A New Opportunity

In early 2012, Edgar and Gustavo’s lives would change forever when the Obama Administration announced a new program that would offer protection from deportation and permission to work for some undocumented youth living in the United States who had arrived before they turned 16 who had not yet turned 31.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was the opportunity they had been waiting for. Like many of the other undocumented people living in the United States Edgar and Gustavo were living unbanked and under constant financial hardship. They lived from paycheck to paycheck, and the four hundred and sixty five dollar application fee was seemingly out of reach. Edgar and Gustavo were determined to find a way to cover the costs.

Joining a Circle

Through friends and the SF LGBT Center, Edgar and Gustavo learned about the Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circle for Dreamers program. Lending Circles for Dreamers program provides zero-interest loans that allowed Edgar and Gustavo, and many other like them, access the four hundred and sixty five dollars they needed to cover the application fees. Over the course of the ten month program, participants take online financial training classes and build credit as they repay the loan. When participants are ready to apply for DACA, Mission Asset Fund gives them a check made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The two year journey to the Social Security Office for Edgar and Gustavo was filled with mountains of paperwork and miles of red tape. A now resolved paperwork issue forced Gustavo’s application to be put on hold for weeks, while a filing error forced Edgar to restart his application. Through it all, Gustavo and Edgar have always had each other for support. Now they have documentation, community, and credit history.

With their new ability to access the financial mainstream, they are one step closer to achieving their goals. The Lending Circle for Dreamers program and DACA have opened up the possibilities for Edgar and Gustavo. Edgar will now be able to go back to school, unite his family, and find stable work. As the ink dries on his Social Security application, Edgar’s dream is finally becoming reality.

Itzel: A DREAMer making a difference

I think things are going to go great and we’re going to look back and say, yes, we made a difference

Itzel always knew she was undocumented, she had known it all her life. Her status had never really impacted her life in a major way. She was happy in high school, and didn’t need a driver’s license because she could not afford a car.  Everything in her life was moving down the right path, but when she turned eighteen, things took an unexpected turn.

The nine digits that disrupted her future.

When Itzel went to apply for college, she was unable to get past the first page. She had fantastic grades, she had the support of her teacher, she did everything you were supposed to do to get in to a good school. But her dreams of attending UC Berkeley or Stanford in the fall were halted due to her lack of a Social Security Number. Itzel didn’t have a Social Security number to fill out in the application and realized she couldn’t apply to the schools that she had been looking forward to going to her entire life. She refused to let this limit her, and when her family moved she enrolled in Community College.

Itzel was undaunted, and continued to pursue her dreams.

When she moved from her home in Oregon to San Francisco she enrolled in City College. As an out of state student her fees were sometimes triple what local students were paying. Unlike other students, she could not access traditional loans, financial aid, or other student services. For her, this was a small price to pay to continue her education. At school she heard about a new program designed from Dreamers like her. DACA was her opportunity to finally get the social security number that had barred her from applying to college. Once DACA was launched, it changed Itzel’s life. She was able to apply for DACA by joining the Lending Circles for DREAMers program, where she received mentorship and financial aid through social loans, and received her first work permit.

Living the DREAM.

Now Itzel will be able to pay in-state tuition as a citizen and a resident of San Francisco for one year. She has worked hard all of her life, and she will continue to work hard to attain her American dream. She is proud to be an example of what undocumented youth can be, and is optimistic about what the DREAMer movement can accomplish in the future. “I think things are going to go great and we’re going to look back and say, yes, we made a difference.”

Jesus: young community builder

When immigration reform goes through, I want people to feel safe in a program like DACA. It’s here to help us.

When Jesus was five years old, he immigrated to the U.S. with his parents. Jesus’ parents were busy working and job hunting that he and his brother would spend a lot of time in after school care. Jesus felt alone most of the time. He was looking for people who shared his experiences, but felt isolated from the other kids at his school. He thought he had found a group of friends when he fell in with the local gang members that hung out near his school. But he was wrong, the gang members that he had thought were his new family abandoned him when he needed them the most. He knew he had made a huge mistake trusting them.

Jesus realized he had the power to change his life.

After that experience, Jesus worked hard to transform himself into a better student. He worked hard, earned top grades and started winning awards. He found a new family that was always there for him, when he joined the soccer team. Once his parents both found employment, he felt a sense of stability return. Even with his life changing course for the better, and his future looking bright he still felt his outlook was very limited.

Without his citizenship, Jesus’ future was not totally secure. He wouldn’t be able to attend college. We wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere else in the world. Jesus knew from his parent’s experience that his ability to find would would be limited. Soon, he had a ray of hope. He had heard of an announcement of a new program for young people like him. He started to get as much information on DACA as possible. Many in his community were weary of the program. They felt that it was a trick to deport them.  Jesus knew that this was his chance to change his life, and by applying for DACA  he was able to finally get a driver’s license, apply for a job, and go to college. Lending Circles for DREAMers helped Jesus finance the application and get him closer to his dream: to study law and give back to the immigrant community using his own experience.

A new outlook on life.

Jesus now works to help other kids like him. He want’s them to know that they are not alone, and that they can achieve anything they want. Jesus recently gave a speech in front of 600 people at a CORO Leadership seminar and earned an internship with the City of San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs.

“I want people to feel safe in a program like DACA,” he said.  “When immigration reform goes through, I want them to take advantage of whatever programs that are out there. They are there to help us.”

Jesus has helped manage a Community Ambassadors program and conduct outreach to encourage youth to apply for DACA. He works to help other young people like him attend college, get drivers licences, and live the life they have been promised by the American dream. With the help of DACA and Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circles for DREAMers anything is possible for Jesus.

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