‘Dreamers’ scramble to submit DACA renewals while they can


A poster hangs outside the pavilion at Gaia House on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, during a vigil held for DACA students. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Ariana Romero’s immigration protections expired in August, a week before President Donald Trump moved to end DACA, the program that shields young people who came to the country illegally as minors.

But now, the 29-year-old is scrambling to collect $495 to renew her two-year work permit. A federal judge in California ordered the White House to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in place while a lawsuit goes forward, and on Saturday the federal government resumed accepting renewal applications.

Romero, of Avondale, said she wants to apply as soon as possible.


“I’m kind of struggling financially, so I will have to search for help,” she said. “I have to hurry because everything could change tomorrow.”

The Trump administration previously announced that DACA would end in March. But now, with the window re-opening, local so-called Dreamers are rushing to submit claims as soon as possible before they lose their chance.

The application fee can be a big hurdle, but people are working to get the money together, said Vanessa Esparza-Lopez, a managing attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center.

“At any moment’s notice, there could be a decision from a higher court that could overturn the preliminary injunction, so we’re just giving them as much information as possible to move forward,” she said.

The Department of Justice on Tuesday announced plans to appeal the ruling and is seeking direct review of the case at the Supreme Court.

“We are now taking the rare step of requesting direct review on the merits of this injunction by the Supreme Court so that this issue may be resolved quickly and fairly for all the parties involved,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

Illinois has the nation’s fourth-largest number of DACA recipients, with more than 35,600 beneficiaries living in the state as of September.


Trump has previously expressed sympathy for the Dreamers — a nickname that came from the DREAM Act, first proposed in 2001 to create a path to permanent residency for the young people. Still, Sessions announced in September that DACA would end by March 5, giving Congress six months to enact a legislative fix. If the program is phased out as planned, about 1,000 people will lose their protections per day.

The federal government resumed accepting applications Saturday “until further notice,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Young immigrants who previously were protected by DACA may file renewal applications, but the order does not cover first-time applicants.

Romero was unable to pay the application fee before her permit expired. Then, under the timeline laid out by Sessions, DACA recipients whose status expired before Sept. 5 were no longer eligible to renew.

She postponed plans to attend college to focus on saving as much money as possible.

“I’m pretty excited that I’m able to renew, but everything is still up in the air,” she said. “This will cover two more years, but then what?”

It’s unclear how many people have applied for renewal. Immigration advocates are urging people to immediately consult a lawyer to determine whether they should reapply.

Laura Garcia, 28, of La Grange, had enough money in her savings account to renew her status the day after a federal judge ordered the government to resume accepting applications.

Garcia said she applied to renew her DACA status in September but was rejected after officials said she missed a deadline. Her immigration protections expired Monday.

Garcia, a mother and library worker, has lived in the U.S. since she was 6 months old. She said she will continue to work and save money in case her family is forced to leave Illinois. Still, she’s “hoping for the best.”

“We don’t like to talk about it, especially if my daughter is present,” Garcia said. “But I think everything is going to be fine as long as we’re together.”

Laura Mendoza, an organizer with The Resurrection Project, said the Heart of Chicago-based organization was flooded with calls from people who wanted updates on the DACA renewal process.

“We did let them know that there was going to be a risk,” Mendoza said. “But people are jumping on board and moving forward with the renewals.”

Mendoza, a DACA recipient, said she came to Chicago when she was 7. She applied to renew her status in September, shortly after the Trump administration announced it was moving to end the program.

Immigration activists are calling on Congress to pass the 2017 Dream Act by Friday to avoid a government shutdown. The bill would grant “conditional permanent residency” to an estimated 1.8 million immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 18 and can meet requirements similar to those under DACA.

Students, high school or GED course graduates, and veterans are eligible for the program. Immigrants who have committed a serious crime, have more than two misdemeanor convictions or are deemed to be a threat to national security are automatically disqualified.

People who are eligible should move forward with the renewal process, rather than waiting for a potential legislative fix, Esparza-Lopez said.

“We’re really stressing to folks that the sooner you can get in, the better because we just don’t know how long this window will be open,” she said. “It’s uncharted territory. We have to take it step by step and work with what we know.”


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