Young Undocumented Immigrants Begin Renewing Deferred Action Permits
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Aired 6/11/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Lilia Velasquez, Immigration Attorney
Alondra Garcia, Organizer, Own the Dream Campaign
The renewal process for young undocumented immigrants who received temporary legal status under President Obama’s Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 is now underway.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced the renewal process for the program, which gives many young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a two-year deportation waiver and allows them to get jobs.
In order to avoid a relapse in status, the department said applicants should submit their renewal applications 120 days before their current permit expires. DACA remains open for first-time applicants.
Dozens of forums and workshops are scheduled around San Diego County to help DACA recipients with their renewal paperwork.
In 2012, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 1.7 million were eligible under the policy. But so far, only 560,000 people have been granted temporary legal status nationwide. That's including 162,000 in California, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"The numbers are low. Some of them didn't get a diploma and now they cannot apply for DACA. Some of them got here when they were over sixteen, and missed the mark. Others do not have fifteen years of age yet, others had a DUI in were disqualified. I'm not sure how they came up with a 1.7 million estimate, but so far we only have a third of the cases approved," said San Diego immigration attorney Lilia Velasquez.
Life After Daca
Palomar College student Alondra Garcia, who now leads the Own the Dream campaign in San Diego, was granted DACA last year.
She says her mom brought her to the U.S when she was four years old and her new status has given her a new lease on life.
"There has been a lot of changes, I got my first credit card, I got a social security number and in-state tuition, I was able to get a job that was more fulfilling," said Garcia.
Velasquez says she's heard similar stories from her clients.
"It really motivated kids that were hesitant about going on to higher education because now they feel legitimized and they feel like they can pursue higher education, and they completed degrees, and now they can put the degrees to work. They can pay taxes safely, they have a Social Security, and is something as mundane, as one client told me, Lilia, I finally went to Disneyland. It was a checkpoint that always stood in the way. He is twenty-eight and finally made that trip. I think that the kids really felt empowered, and they have dreams for bigger things. Having said that, they are also very concerned about the future."
A recent UC San Diego survey also shows DACA recipients have become politically engaged.
But DACA remains controversial, some Republicans have called it "backdoor amnesty" and with a presidential election in sight immigrant rights activists worry about the program's future.
"It depends on who gets elected to office in 2016. If a Democrat takes over, we feel that DACA will continue. But if it is taken away, those kids will be crushed. If we get a Republican, we are in trouble," said Velasquez.
President Obama meanwhile is pushing Congress acts on immigration. Last week, Obama delayed making more changes to deportation policies hoping lawmakers pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill before summer recess.