A scram­ble to re­new DACA

Lawyers, vol­un­teers of­fer free work­shop to help im­mi­grants meet Trump’s dead­line.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Andrea Castillo andrea.castillo @la­times.com

Lawyers, vol­un­teers help ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Obama-era pro­gram meet sched­ule set by Pres­i­dent Trump.

Vianey Romero is one of the lucky ones.

When Pres­i­dent Trump re­cently an­nounced plans to phase out over the next six months a fed­eral pro­gram that pro­tects some im­mi­grants from de­por­ta­tion, there was an ex­cep­tion made for those like Romero whose le­gal sta­tus was set to ex­pire on or be­fore March 5.

Romero, 35, is a ben­e­fi­ciary of former Pres­i­dent Obama’s De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, or DACA, which shielded from de­por­ta­tion nearly 800,000 im­mi­grants who came to the U.S. il­le­gally as chil­dren. The pro­gram pro­vides re­cip­i­ents with re­new­able two-year work per­mits.

Un­der Trump’s plan, Romero and oth­ers can re­new their en­roll­ment in DACA if they ap­ply be­fore Oct. 5. There are about 150,000 im­mi­grants el­i­gi­ble to reap­ply for the pro­gram.

Im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates are scram­bling to set up re­newal work­shops for the so-called Dreamers. On Satur­day, Loy­ola Law School’s Im­mi­grant Jus­tice Clinic spon­sored one of th­ese events.

Lawyers and vol­un­teers pro­cessed about 100 ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Romero’s. Her So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber, is­sued un­der DACA, ex­pires March 3. If her ap­pli­ca­tion is ac­cepted, her work per­mit and So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber will be valid through 2020.

Romero was 15 and had just fin­ished the school year in Pue­bla, Mex­ico, when her par­ents, who were al­ready liv­ing in the U.S. with her three sib­lings, sent for her. She crossed the bor­der with a coy­ote, a smug­gler, walk­ing along the bor­der for a week with lit­tle food and water.

The East Los An­ge­les res­i­dent has been en­rolled in DACA for a year and a half, say­ing she hes­i­tated to ap­ply af­ter the pro­gram be­gan in 2012 be­cause she was afraid. Her hus­band, who works as a tree trim­mer, is also in the coun­try il­le­gally. Their four chil­dren, ages 12 to 1, are U.S. cit­i­zens.

For years, Romero fo­cused on her kids, choos­ing to be a stay-at-home mom while they are young. She fi­nally ap­plied for DACA know­ing that she’d even­tu­ally be able to work legally and feel more at ease.

The le­gal sta­tus also al­lowed her to get a credit card and fi­nance the fam­ily’s new Kia Se­dona. They’ve been hop­ing to buy a house.

Romero said her son cried when Trump an­nounced the end of DACA, though the pres­i­dent has re­cently in­di­cated he might be will­ing to be flex­i­ble on the pro­gram. She said she has al­ways been frank with her chil­dren about her im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, telling them she wasn’t born here like they were and that it’s pos­si­ble for her to be de­ported.

“I have faith that they’re go­ing to do some­thing bet­ter for us,” she said. “They know we’ve done noth­ing wrong.”

Romero con­sid­ers her­self for­tu­nate. Her younger brother, who is also a DACA ben­e­fi­ciary, doesn’t qual­ify for the last-minute re­newal.

Like Romero, the DACA par­tic­i­pants at Loy­ola over­whelm­ingly were from Mex­ico. Most com­pleted some col­lege, and the vast ma­jor­ity said they spoke English as their pri­mary lan­guage.

Mari­aCarolina Gomez, 22, reg­is­tered peo­ple as they walked in. She grad­u­ated this year from Loy­ola Mary­mount and works as a le­gal as­sis­tant at the Im­mi­grant De­fend­ers Law Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les.

Her par­ents brought her to the U.S. as an in­fant on tourist visas that they over­stayed. Her mother was an ac­coun­tant and her fa­ther an ar­chi­tect, but Mex­ico’s re­ces­sion left them des­per­ate. Now her mom cleans houses and her dad re­stores art­work.

Gomez didn’t qual­ify for the DACA re­newal. Her work per­mit will ex­pire at the be­gin­ning of 2019, throw­ing a wrench into her plans to ap­ply to law school. With DACA, she qual­i­fies for pri­vate loans. With­out it, she wor­ries about fi­nanc­ing her grad­u­ate de­gree.

“There’s so much we can’t con­trol,” she said, “but it’s im­por­tant to do what we can.”

She said that in­cludes fight­ing against the po­lit­i­cally charged rhetoric of good and bad im­mi­grants that pits Dreamers against their par­ents.

“Yes, I didn’t ask as a 6month-old to come here, but I don’t want my par­ents to be seen as the bad guys,” she said. “And by no means would I want their sac­ri­fices to be di­min­ished.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Con­sulate of Mex­ico in Los An­ge­les were on hand Satur­day to help Mex­i­can na­tion­als in need of as­sis­tance pay the $495 ap­pli­ca­tion fee. Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown and leg­isla­tive lead­ers an­nounced a plan last week to al­lo­cate $30 mil­lion in fi­nan­cial aid and le­gal ser­vices to help Dreamers. The San Fran­cisco-based Mis­sion As­set Fund an­nounced it will pro­vide $1 mil­lion in schol­ar­ships for DACA re­newals.

Those funds will help peo­ple like Chris­tian Perez, who ar­rived at Loy­ola about $250 short of his ap­pli­ca­tion fee. The 30-year-old Long Beach res­i­dent works in a kitchen and has been en­rolled in DACA only since De­cem­ber 2015 be­cause he couldn’t come up with the money to ap­ply be­fore.

Perez and his par­ents came to the U.S. il­le­gally from Mi­choa­can, Mex­ico, when he was 3. DACA en­abled him to get a bet­ter­pay­ing job and to af­ford a 2017 Honda Ac­cord af­ter driv­ing a “beater” for years.

On Satur­day, he brought an over­stuffed manila en­ve­lope with all his le­gal doc­u­ments and saved mail from ev­ery month for the last two years as proof that he has re­mained in the coun­try. His 5year-old daugh­ter clung to his side as he re­viewed the ap­pli­ca­tion with a lawyer.

De­spite his worry about the fluc­tu­at­ing sta­tus of DACA over the last two weeks, Perez said there’s not much he can do but roll with the changes.

“It’s scary but all I do is pray and hope it comes out as good news,” he said.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

MAYRA Her­nan­dez, 19, poses for a pass­port photo as she com­pletes the DACA re­newal process Satur­day.

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