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Dreamers greet DACA renewal deadline with anxiety and unanswered questions

DACA supporters held a press conference in front of the Texas Attorney General's Office in Austin on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, after the Trump administration announced the program was ending. 

For more than 40,000 young undocumented immigrants, Thursday could be marked by a mad scramble to submit renewal applications for a federal program that’s shielded them from deportation for years.

The day marks the deadline for beneficiaries of the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, to submit renewal applications for the program that began in 2012. It awards a two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings to undocumented immigrants who came to the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012.

President Donald Trump announced last month that he would keep a campaign promise by ending the program early next year, though he said he’s sympathetic to the young immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” and wants Congress to come up with a solution. Since the program launched, it has benefited more than 800,000 recipients — including more than 124,000 Texans. As of Wednesday morning, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had received 112,000 out of a potential 154,000 renewals.

“It’s been a very anxiety-producing time” since last month’s announcement, said Adam Luna, the communications director for United We Dream, a Washington-based advocacy group. “We’ve had a lot of educational and social media materials sent out. We want to engage people in the process and remind them they’re not alone, which they’re not.”

Thursday’s deadline only applies to DACA recipients whose benefits expire before March 5, the date Trump stated the program will end. Renewals will be honored for two years after the date they are approved. But tens of thousands who don’t fit that time frame are expected to be out of luck as soon as their most recent DACA expires.

Luna said that even among those who are eligible to renew, the cost to re-file, $495, has proven a barrier to many applicants. That led United We Dream and other organizations, including the Mexican consulate offices in Austin and Dallas, to launch scholarship drives to help Dreamers pay the dues. As of Thursday, United We Dream alone was able to fund about 1,600 applications, Luna said.

Nicholas Hoffman, a DACA recipient who came to the country from Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1998, said he’s done without meals and gas money in the past to foot the bill for his renewal fee. He filed before Thursday’s deadline but said he’s still worried about not getting approved.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be accepted or not because I procrastinated a little too long,” he said. But Hoffman said he understands why Trump rescinded the program, and why Obama created it.

“Obama did do it illegally,” he said, referring to the former president creating DACA by executive order instead of waiting on Congress to act. “But he did it with good intentions. That’s why nobody questioned Obama for doing it. I understand why Trump is doing this because it’s kind of an ‘F. U.’ to the old administration. But at the same time, he’s toying with over 800,000 people’s lives. That’s what makes my blood boil.”

Hoffman’s view of DACA’s legality matches that of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who helped force Trump’s hand on the program. Months earlier, Paxton urged the U.S. Department of Justice to end the program, claiming it was an unlawful overreach by Obama. Paxton and nine other state attorneys general wrote in a June 29 letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that should the program stay intact, they would formally challenge it’s legality in court on Sept. 5, the day the Trump administration announced plans to end the program.

While he waits on word from the federal government on his renewal, Hoffman and tens of thousands like him will be watching to see what Congress — and Trump — decide to do over the next five months.

The White House met with Democrats over DACA last month, but the meeting ended with mixed signals being sent in all directions. Trump had dinner at the White House with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California. Democrats later announced they had a deal to protect the Dreamers without funding another one of the president’s campaign promises: his “big, beautiful wall” on the southern border. But Trump quickly denied any deal was reached. Since then, Dreamers and their supporters have demanded a “clean” DREAM act – legislation that will codify DACA but that doesn’t include ramped up enforcement, funding for a wall or for additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol agents.

“We need to have Washington move away from [legislation] where a group of immigrants gets the boot taken off their necks but punches another group of immigrants in the face,” Luna said.

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