You would need to all but ignore the media to not have heard of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the federal initiative announced in 2012 that allowed people who are undocumented and were brought to the United States as children the ability to stay and work in the U.S. The program included strict vetting of applicants and required DACA recipients to be enrolled in school, have already graduated, or have completed military service. The DACA program was nowhere near permanent – it provided only two-year renewable grants of deferred action and work authorization – but it was something tangible that allowed Dreamers to contribute to their communities free from fear. And it worked. Over the past five years, about 800,000 young people participated in the program until President Trump announced it would be rescinded last year.
When he unilaterally terminated the program, the president created a crisis that he then called on Congress to fix. And yet, more than six months later, Congress has yet to provide a permanent legislative solution. In fact, the Senate rejected four immigration proposals recently brought to the floor and the President threatened to veto anything that did not include wide-ranging provisions on other immigration issues, including slashes to the legal immigration system.
In the meantime, federal courts have weighed in and have halted the program’s rescission. The Trump administration sought to bypass the normal process and appeal the decision directly to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court rejected its attempt to get the justices to intervene in the controversy, denying the government’s request to review the federal district court injunction barring the termination of the DACA program. In a brief unsigned comment, the justices said they assume “the court of appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case.” Of course, once the court of appeals has weighed in, it is possible that the Supreme Court may entertain an appeal. For now, though, the program is still operating according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidelines issued in January 2018 for those who are renewing a previously existing grant while litigation continues.
Although USCIS encourages DACA recipients to file a renewal request between 120-150 days before their current DACA permits expire, the agency is accepting renewal requests filed earlier than the 150 days. These renewal requests have been accepted and receipt notices have been issued, with some individuals filing renewal request up to one year in advance. It is my feeling, and that of many other AILA members, that DACA renewals should be filed expeditiously, because of the uncertainty surrounding the program.
According to Mosse Martinez, a DACA recipient from Guatemala whom I assisted at a DACA renewal clinic hosted by Latino Memphis last year, getting help at the renewal clinic gave him peace of mind, knowing that his paperwork had been filled out properly. All he had to do when he left was put postage on the envelope and mail it to USCIS. He also benefited from the human connection and friendliness of the clinic volunteers. Mosse is a student at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, which is one of many institutions of higher education in the United States that has stepped up during this time in support of Dreamers, helping them with scholarships and aid. Mosse came to the United States with his mother and brother when he was six years old. As a child Mosse considered himself American, but as he got older he started to feel like an outsider, with all the talk about undocumented immigrants not being wanted here. He was a strong student and knew he wanted to attend college. Mosse is studying Biochemistry and plans to attend medical school.
The sad reality is that even though this window is open, many DACA recipients are students and other young people for whom the DACA renewal fee of $495 is prohibitively expensive, let alone paying an additional attorney’s fee for preparation of their case. But AILA, its members, and its chapters have stood up for DACA recipients before by volunteering at DACA clinics and can do so again with renewal clinics. In some cities, non-profit organizations have combined the DACA renewal workshop with mental health services or comprehensive immigration consultations. Anecdotally, AILA members reported that up to 30% of those who went in for initial DACA consultations actually turned out to be eligible for permanent relief that they were previously unaware of.
By hosting a DACA renewal clinic, or volunteering with one in your community, AILA members can offer their expertise in ways that change lives. In addition to volunteering at DACA clinics, members can contact Congress to urge them to pass the Dream Act for a permanent fix. Let’s show everyone again that #AILAStandsWithDreamers.