WASHINGTON — With a Wednesday deadline looming for some 154,000 DACA recipients to renew their applications, supporters and legislators are pushing for an extension amid calls for legislation that would protect the young undocumented immigrants who have benefited from the program.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is asking the Department of Homeland Security for an extension to at least Jan. 5, 2018.
"The 30-day period that the administration gave Dreamers to renew their status was arbitrary and frankly dangerous," reads the letter caucus members sent to Homeland Security's acting secretary, Elaine Duke. "We are very concerned that because DACA recipients were not individually notified of their eligibility for renewal, tens of thousands of DACA recipients could lose their work authorization and DACA status protection."
CHC and other DACA supporters are pushing for the extension, as there are approximately 50,000 eligible DACA recipients — or nearly one-third of those eligible — who have not yet submitted their renewal applications to DHS. No new applications have been accepted since the Sept. 5 announcement, and the Wednesday deadline is for those whose DACA status expires on or before March 5, 2018.
"My concern is for those whose DACA expires after March 2018, because it hasn't hit them," said Yesenia Contreras-Frazier, a paralegal at a Washington law firm with DACA clients, adding that the firm has had an influx of renewal applications.
But not everyone is eligible for this renewal, explains Contreras.
"Some of them have a 2019 expiration date (DACA renewals are for every two years) and that allows them to work, but once that expires, unless something changes, that's it," said Contreras. "They can't get an extension. This renewal is only for those whose DACA status expires on or before March 5. It's very specific. I really hope Congress does something."
Legislators cite the $495 application fee as an obstacle for many DACA recipients, including thousands of Dreamers, the young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as youngsters. Members also want the DHS to specify what exactly would happen to recipients once their status expires should Congress not move forward on legislation.
The CHC also seeks assurances that DACA recipients "are not an enforcement priority before the termination of the program and will not become a priority now that the program is ending," according to the letter, which was signed by the caucus chairwoman, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.); the chairman of the caucus's immigration and border issues task force, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.); and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security.
Homeland Security needs to provide guidance to two federal agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, "to ensure that DACA recipients are not targeted for detention and deportation," the letter said.
The Trump administration announced last month it was phasing out the program, calling on Congress to pass legislation that would protect DACA recipients from deportation.
Legislation to protect Dreamers and other DACA recipients from deportation has wide bipartisan support, as well as backing from both progressive and conservative Latino organizations.
Groups as diverse as UnidosUS, the LIBRE Initiative, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have made a case for DACA.
Javier Palómarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, quit the president's diversity council once the announcement was made to rescind the Obama-era program.
The chamber "vehemently opposes the president's inhumane and economically harmful decision to terminate DACA," Palomárez said. "Moreover, rescinding the work permits of almost 800,000 people and forcing them into the shadows is reckless economic policy."
The chamber and several other Latino organizations met Wednesday to discuss steps toward a legislative solution on DACA.
There is bipartisan support for legislation to help Dreamers and other DACA recipients, but there is disagreement on the best path forward. Some argue lawmakers should consider a "clean" DACA bill with no other legislation, while others argue that it should be part of a larger bill on border security.
This week at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Denisse Rojas Márquez, 28, testified that she had arrived with her family from Mexico as a baby and that she had lived in fear until DACA was implemented.
"We lived in a nondescript apartment complex where our unit was tucked away in the furthest corner from the street," Márquez said. "I felt terrified leaving my home most days, looking over my shoulder to see if someone was following me."
Under DACA, she said, she was able to finish college and attend medical school. "I no longer lived in fear," she told committee members. "The fates of 800,000 individuals rests in your hands, and we desperately need your help."
The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on the issue, including at Wednesday's hearing, when Michael Dougherty, assistant DHS secretary for border, immigration, and trade policy, said that the Trump administration would support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. "Under a rational bill, these individuals would be able to become lawful permanent residents with a pathway to citizenship," he said.
But the administration quickly walked back those remarks, saying Dougherty was not stating Trump's views on the matter nor White House policy. Additionally, Trump has said he is close to a deal with House and Senate Democratic leaders, but that has also come into doubt, with both sides claiming different versions of the conversation and different initiatives to move DACA legislation forward.