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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Times
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

‘Dreamers’ Rush to Renew Their Protections One Last Time

LOS ANGELES — Brian Solis was the first to arrive, at 3 a.m. He unfolded his beach chair and tried to get some sleep, slumping over a backpack laden with school books and immigration paperwork. By dawn, dozens of others, many wearing hoodies and wrapped in blankets, had joined him on the sidewalk.

Around the country, thousands of young undocumented immigrants like them have been lining up at legal clinics and scrambling to finish paperwork before the clock runs out on their chance to live and work legally in the United States.

Like Mr. Solis, who came to the United States from El Salvador when he was 7, they are hoping to renew their participation in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which since 2012 has allowed them to obtain work permits and reprieves from deportation, renewable every two years. But on Sept. 5, the Trump administration announced that it was winding down the program, and that it would accept no more renewal applications after Thursday.

Since the announcement, nonprofits and advocacy groups have rushed to offer free legal advice, help filling out applications and, in some cases, assistance covering the $495 renewal fee.

In Chicago, the Resurrection Project, which has held DACA clinics in Korean, African and Latino churches and centers, has processed about 45 applications a week since Sept. 5, compared with just two or three a week previously.

In Houston, Catholic Charities has helped recipients replace documents lost in hurricane floodwaters and has held numerous application events.

“Organizations like ours have been on overdrive,” said Amy Taylor, legal director for Make the Road New York, which she said had done “massive outreach” and hosted renewal workshops in Queens and on Long Island.

In Los Angeles, a group called Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or Chirla, had arranged for lawyers and for help with the fee, which several people in line said they could not afford, especially on short notice.

“That’s a whole paycheck — $495,” said Blessing Soriano, 21, who works in retail and arrived at 5 a.m. to get a place in line.

The Trump administration, facing the threat of a lawsuit from several Republican state attorneys general if it did not repeal DACA, argued that the program was unconstitutional and an overreach of presidential power. It said it would begin phasing out the Obama-era program, which covers about 800,000 people, on March 6, 2018. The president added that it was up to Congress to grant the protections, and he has urged it to do so.

The administration allowed only those recipients whose benefits expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018, to renew for a final two years. About 154,000 fall into that group.

Between Sept. 5 and last Wednesday, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services said it had received 39,400 renewal requests, more than it typically receives in a whole month. That number does not include applications filed before Sept. 5, or the ones that have flooded into government processing centers in the final days.

Several advocacy groups and Democratic-led states are suing the government over the termination, claiming that it violates the Constitution and shows animus against Mexicans, who constitute the overwhelming majority of recipients, and other Latino groups.

On Tuesday, Judge Nicholas Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, who is hearing two DACA lawsuits, called the administration “heartless” for refusing his request to extend the Oct. 5 deadline.

“As a practical matter, not only 800,000 people are affected by what may happen here,” said Judge Garaufis, referring to recipients’ families. “It’s unacceptable quite frankly to me as a human being in America. I’m just glad I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and not Mexico City.”

A Justice Department attorney responded that Oct. 5 was an “appropriate deadline to promptly and efficiently” wind down the program.

When DACA recipients apply for renewal, they must pass a new background check — those who have committed serious crimes may be rejected — update their information and provide details about their financial circumstances. Question 3 on the form asks them to justify “economic need to work.”

Applications are mailed to one of three lockboxes of Citizenship and Immigration Services, in Arizona, Illinois or Texas, depending on an applicant’s state of residence. Cases are reviewed at an agency center in Nebraska, and then applicants are notified to visit a facility in their area for fingerprints and photographs. Approvals take about three months.

The demise of the program has drawn condemnation from corporations, faith-based groups and politicians on both sides of the aisle. Donors have contributed millions of dollars to help with the renewal fees.

The San Francisco-based Mission Asset Fund has raised nearly $4 million, some of it from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to cover fees for about 6,000 applicants nationwide, express-mailing them checks made out to the Department of Homeland Security. In Rhode Island, philanthropy groups, companies and the state government joined forces to cover fees for all applicants. In Washington State, an anonymous donor pitched in $125,000. In Texas, Unbound Philanthropy is subsidizing renewals for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Mexican consulates are also assisting people who prove they cannot afford the fee.

President Trump, who has at times praised Dreamers, as DACA recipients are known, put the onus on lawmakers to protect the young immigrants as part of an overhaul of the immigration system that would also toughen enforcement. But if Congress does not act, the program’s expiration will begin to have life-changing consequences on beneficiaries come March.

Paula Romano, 31, whose protection expires March 18, frets about losing the $73,000 salary that she earns managing the office of an oil-field company in Hobbs, N.M.

For years, she toiled in the underground economy in food service. Thanks to DACA, five years ago she got a good job, received a promotion and saved enough for a down payment on a house. “I was able to achieve the middle class,” she said, “and now I feel the weight of uncertainty.”

Jose Magon’s DACA expires March 6, the day after the cutoff. “I was hoping to continue my education and now I don’t know what will happen,” said Mr. Magon, 17, of Capitol Heights, Md.

Some immigrants who do not realize they do not qualify for renewal are showing up at clinics, only to be turned away.

“A lot of people who aren’t eligible come in, and there’s a lot of crying,” said Kathy Khommarath, a lawyer for Chirla, the group that held the Los Angeles event.

Even those who were eligible did not want to leave anything to chance, so they lined up hours before the doors opened.

“I wanted to make sure I could get in and get everything done, then make it to my calculus class and to work,” said Mr. Solis, 20, who manages inventory and schedules for a restaurant while attending community college, with hopes of transferring to the University of Southern California.

Just before 10 a.m., Ms. Soriano stepped out into the bright sunshine with a huge smile on her face. Her application was done, and she planned to celebrate that night with dinner at Olive Garden.

“I feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders,” she said. “I’ll be heading to work happy, even if I’m tired.”

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