At a meeting in Jackson Heights, under the rumble of the 7 train, about 40 DACA recipients learned that their fate in this country depends on one date: March 5, 2018.
Anyone whose authorization expires after that date is not allowed to reapply to work in the U.S. legally and avoid deportation, because President Trump plans to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals unless Congress acts before March 5th.
Those whose authorizations expire before March 5th can reapply for two more years of DACA. The cost is $495. But they have to do so quickly, because Trump only gave them until October 5th for the government to receive their forms.
A 24-year-old man with wavy brown hair looked devastated. Juan said his authorization expires March 9th, just four days after Trump’s limit.
“It’s very disappointing,” he said, explaining that his parents brought him to the U.S. from Colombia when he was eight. Juan said DACA enabled him to get a job at a warehouse and help support his mother.
“We’re going to have to go back to using fake IDs and fake socials and people are going to lose their job,” he said. “It’s not fair, you know?”
This fear prevented those at the Jackson Heights meeting from giving their full names. The meeting was hosted by Make the Road New York, whose organizers also warned them about the potential for harassment and trolling on social media by opponents of DACA.
A 26-year-old petite woman named Petagaye, however, was delighted to learn that her February expiration date made her eligible to reapply. She said she drives an 18-wheeler for a living, something she couldn’t have done without DACA because she overstayed her visa when she came here from Jamaica as a teenager.
“A lot of guys look at me and say you’re a crazy little female,” she said, about driving a truck. “But I’m 120 pounds and I love what I do.”
Some of those who fall outside the window of eligibility asked about marrying a U.S. citizen and getting a green card. One young man named Arturo said he was willing to marry his best friend, another man, even though he’s not gay.
“I’m not scared about my sexuality or my manhood,” he said. “I know what I like. But you gotta do what you gotta do, really.”
Immigration lawyers warn that green card marriages are risky if they’re not really for love. But there are other options worth exploring, said Natalia Renta, an attorney with Make the Road New York who was advising those at the meeting in Jackson Heights. For example, victims of crime may be eligible for U Visas.
“It’s always important to get evaluated,” Renta explained, which was why advocates from her group were screening DACA recipients at the meeting to see if they had other options to stay in the U.S., or if anything in their life had changed to hurt their renewal application, like an arrest.
Alejandro, a 28-year-old from Bolivia, was excited to reapply because he had just gotten a new job. He’s been in the U.S. since he was eight, he said, and “fell in love” with New York. He looks forward to having more time under DACA.
“Hopefully if everything goes well in those two years I’ll be able to do something with myself to become part of the American society, or hopefully the government does something,” he mused, referring to Congressional legislation.
When Renta looked over his forms, however, she saw that he had gotten a ticket for MTA fare evasion and urged him to wait until he paid it later this month, before sending in his DACA renewal application. She didn’t think it would affect anything but wanted him to be on the safe side, since DACA is a discretionary program.
Make the Road New York isn’t the only group screening DACA recipients and helping them with their applications. The Legal Aid Society is also bringing in extra help, and the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs did a telephone town hall with DACA recipients.
Those who already reapplied for DACA before the president announced the change in September are not affected by the new deadlines, but the government said this will be their last two-year work authorization unless Congress takes action to extend the benefits of DACA.
With reporting assistance from Alexander Gonzalez.
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