York County immigrants rush to renew DACA status by Thursday

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

Since President Donald Trump announced his plan to end a program protecting young immigrants from deportation, local attorneys and activists have been working to help them renew their protected status before the federal government stops looking at applications.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday, Sept. 5, that Trump would “wind down” former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program by March 2018. 

This Sept. 28, 2017 photo people wait in line at CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles) for help with immigration paperwork, including renewing work permits for expiring Obama-era program for immigrants brought to the country as children. After Oct. 5, 2017, no one else can renew under the program that has let nearly 800,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children work in the country even though they lack legal papers. (AP Photo/Amy Taxin)

During the announcement, Sessions said the Trump administration would process pending applications for DACA status and applications for renewing DACA status until Thursday, Oct. 5.

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Only DACA recipients whose protected status expires in the six months between Trump’s September announcement and the March 5 “drop-dead date” are eligible to renew their status for an additional two years, said Daniel Pell, an immigration attorney based in Springettsbury Township.

People at the Intermodal Center in Erie, Pa., protest President Donald Trump's decision to rescind former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which protects children of undocumented immigrants from being deported, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. From left are: Janice Etchison (with yellow sign), of Harborcreek Township, Erie County, Pa.; Mike Kurutz (with sign in air), 61, of Erie; and Kyle Lambing, far right, 21, who is a Penn State Behrend student from Conneaut Lake, Crawford County, Pa. U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, of Butler, R-3rd Dist., who represents the city of Erie and parts of Erie County and several other counties, has an office in the Intermodal Center. (Christopher Millette)/Erie Times-News via AP)

Renewal applications from DACA recipients whose status expires after March 5 will not be reviewed or accepted.

“If your status expires after March 5 or you missed the deadline for renewal, you no longer have deferred action,” said Steve Converse, an immigration attorney with Anderson, Converse and Fennick in Springettsbury Township.

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Converse said his office combed through its database of DACA recipients after Trump’s announcement and notified them to update their paperwork before the newly imposed deadline.

“I didn’t want my people to fall through the cracks for lack of understanding of the timing” of deadlines, he said, adding the government should have better publicized the deadline and given people more than a month’s notice to renew.

Converse said his office filed five renewal applications Tuesday, Oct. 3, to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and will likely file another before the deadline.

“Everybody’s trying to get (their applications) in,” he said. “We’ve just been going mad doing this.”

Advance warning: Elizabeth Alex, regional director of CASA, a nonpartisan immigrant services organization with an office in York City Hall, estimated there are about 700 DACA recipients in York County.

Many of them are college students working to pay for their education, as they aren’t eligible for education funding assistance, she said. 

Alex said her organization has been connecting local recipients with immigration attorneys to work through the renewal process and potentially identify alternate, and more permanent, solutions for their immigration status.

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When Obama announced the program in 2012, immigration offices across the country dealt with “huge numbers of people” trying to sign up all at once, she said.

Knowing in advance that Trump would be making an announcement likely ending DACA, Alex said CASA offices encouraged recipients to submit renewal applications early. 

That prompted a large rush in August and a smaller one after Trump’s announcement last month, but the flow of recipients looking to renew has become a “steady trickle” in recent weeks, she said. 

“Do it now,” Alex said, speaking to those who can renew but have not yet. “A DACA renewal is going to buy you two more years to be able to work and to live in this country with some level of security.

“To all the Dreamers out there who were not able to renew … don’t give up. This fight is just beginning,” she added. DACA recipients are sometimes called Dreamers after the DREAM Act, proposals Congress has not passed that would have granted similar protections to young immigrants. 

Time to compromise: Though Trump will end the DACA program in March, protections under the program will continue into the fall of 2019 for those who renewed before the deadline, Converse said. 

Under DACA regulations, young immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. by their parents must pay a $495 application fee, pass background checks, get fingerprinted and turn over personal information, including their home addresses, in order to get a driver’s license and documentation to work. 

To renew, recipients must update their personal information and again pay a $495 filing fee.

These disclosures leave DACA recipients “totally exposed” to immigration officials, but the program cemented an understanding that no action would be taken against recipients — one that is no longer so concrete, Converse said.

“The whole point of DACA is that the government is not taking action against them for this specified time,” he said. “One would hope the government would hold up their end for the next two years.”

While Converse’s office has seen a spike in people seeking help filing DACA renewals, Pell, the Springettsbury Township immigration attorney, said he has seen a “gargantuan” spike in the number of people seeking relief from deportation as a result of the Trump administration's focus on illegal immigration.

Increased enforcement of outdated immigration laws will only add to the 40,000-case backlog at immigration courts across the country, where some cases are already delayed up to two years, he said. 

“I’m not advocating for open borders, and I’m not advocating for people who knowingly violated the immigration laws to walk free,” but there has to be some kind of compromise between lawmakers on all sides of the issue, Pell said.