Immigrant advocates, media, and activists have been shouting today’s date for weeks. October 5, 2017, marks the deadline for those who are eligible to renew their participation in DACA to file their paperwork. And as many activists and advocates have warned, tens of thousands didn’t make it in time.
Some 36,000 young people who would have been eligible to renew their DACA participation for one last two-year stretch did not get their applications in, ThinkProgress reported today. The federal government estimated that some 154,000 were eligible.
Renewal applications have been streaming in during the final days before today’s deadline. On October 2, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed to The Nation that it had received 104,000 renewal applications out of a potential 154,000. (The October 5 deadline is a received by, and not a postmarked by, deadline.) By October 4, 111,565 people had filed their renewals, Vox reported.
One month ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would begin phasing out the program. The move fulfilled one of President Trump’s key campaign promises, and was a major defeat for the immigrant-rights movement. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, extends two-year reprieves from deportation to select undocumented young people while granting them the right to work, go to school, and gain driver’s licenses. It was the marquee victory for immigrants in the Obama era, and a prime target of the Trump administration.
The wind-down is a gradual one, though. The Trump administration allowed those whose DACA is set to expire between September 5 and March 5 four weeks—that is, the last month—to turn in renewal applications to extend their DACA one last time. Anyone whose DACA expires on or after March 6 will have no other chance to extend their status. Because participation in the program is on an individual basis, DACA expiration dates will happen on an individual basis. Every day, some 1,400 people are expected to lose their status.
For many, losing DACA will restrict their ability to move and live freely in the country. “DACA gave me an opportunity to work where I’m not outside,” Oscar Hernandez, a 28-year-old who lives in Houston, told The Nation earlier this year. Hernandez used to work as a landscaper, and had his own business, but through DACA he’s been able to be legally employed by someone else, and today works as an organizer for United We Dream, a national immigrant-youth organization. “Through this job it gave me medical insurance, the opportunity to get an ID, to go to the library, to open a bank account at a credit union.”
Hernandez said that two weeks after he got DACA he was pulled over while driving and felt immediate relief that he had this legal protection, which will soon go away for him. Now, in a post-DACA age, his future looks very different. Without DACA, he said, “I don’t know what it means for my health benefits, my job. It makes everything very unstable.”
Still, that so many did make the deadline is a testament to the organizing of immigrant-rights groups and legal-aid organizations around the country. The Trump administration declined to notify young people about their eligibility.
Instead, it fell to advocates and activists to inform and organize DACA recipients about the narrow restrictions and urgent deadline. Even with the media blitz and community outreach in recent weeks, advocates and activists agonized over those they wouldn’t reach. “We are calling on everyone to respond with full force to what we are calling an arbitrary, unworkable, and cruel—and what is frankly an unreasonable and unrealistic—deadline,” Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said the week after Sessions announced the October 5 date. Despite repeated appeals and a lawsuit, the federal government refused to extend the deadline.
Immigrant-rights organizations have been in an all-out scramble, hosting weekend clinics and offering all-day walk-in appointments at their offices in the final days. “One month is not enough to mobilize 154,000 people,” said Ivan Ceja, a co-founder of Undocumedia, a social-media-driven outlet providing information and calls to action.
University law clinics and immigrant-rights and legal-aid organizations have ramped up their existing infrastructure to provide as many opportunities as possible to help young people file their renewal paperwork. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles filed 700 applications in the last month, the organization announced Wednesday. Make the Road New York filed more than 100 DACA renewals in the last three and a half weeks, according to Make the Road immigration attorney Yasmine Farhang. But even with the group’s adding weekend and weeknight DACA workshops and providing all-day staffing in its offices for last-minute applicants, Farhang still worried about “the people we’re missing.”
Undocumedia, in addition to posting regularly about the various deadlines and fee-scholarship opportunities, hosted open-house clinics throughout Southern California to help DACA recipients file their paperwork. For Undocumedia, which functions mainly as a social-media outfit, this kind of direct service work was an ad hoc arrangement. “It took us five years to get to 790,000 to enroll when policymakers said that 2 million people were eligible,” Ceja said, referring to the numbers of DACA-eligible young people versus the smaller subset who actually received protection through the program throughout the last five years. “How are we supposed to get 10 percent of that in a month?”
Farhang of Make the Road was concerned that, outside of big cities with strong nonprofit infrastructure, young people might not get the help they need. Make the Road recently hired an organizer in Las Vegas, according to Farhang, and met dozens of young people who were eligible to renew.
The cost was also a key—and some feared a prohibitive—factor that could affect renewal rates. Renewal applications come with a $495 filing fee—which, it should be noted, would net the federal government more than $76 million, if every eligible DACA recipient applied. Even though organizations like the Mission Asset Fund, United We Dream, private donors, and even the state of Rhode Island, raised millions of dollars to help DACA recipients pay these fees, the tight timeline made it hard to ensure that every person was able to access available scholarships.
And even then, “some people still fear that if they renew, the federal government will deport me if I sign up again,” said Ceja of Undocumedia.
At the clinics, both Ceja and Farhang said, plenty of young people show up who are not eligible to renew. “It sucks,” Ceja said about having to break the news to someone. But Ceja, who also has DACA but only until it expires in October of next year, “I remind them that I’m not eligible to renew either.
“And I tell them we still have rights regardless, and the best thing we can do now is to take action to make sure there is a solution for all of us.”