Following President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, thousands of immigrants across the U.S. are looking at possible deportation without the program’s protection.
Working in connection with the recipients of the federal policy that gave temporary protected status to people brought without legal papers as children to the United States, members of the New Mexico Dream Team and United We Dream held a clinic in Taos Saturday (Sept. 23) to help people renew their DACA status for what could be the last time. The entire clinic was held to make those under DACA aware of the rights they still have regardless of the administration’s decision to terminate the program created under the Obama administration in 2012. The clinic helped dozens of people in Taos over the weekend. There are plans to host another clinic to educate more recipients and members of the Taos community. The group also gave out 50 scholarships for recipients of the program.
“A lot of the people here experienced a variety of different situations where they come from,” said Karla Molinar of the New Mexico Dream Team. “The idea is that we engage them so we can organize in their own town so they can solve their own issues.”
DACA provides temporary amnesty for those under 31 years old as of June 2012 and who were in the U.S. with no legal status before their 16th birthday. According to Molinar, DACA provides recipients with a low deportation status for two years. In order to receive protection with DACA, applicants must have no prior criminal record of felonies, significant misdemeanors or have had no more than three petty misdemeanors. In addition, applicants must have graduated from high school or be in school to be considered under the program. The Trump administration’s decision to terminate the program leaves several questions for organizers and recipients of DACA as to the program’s future.
Applications for renewal of the DACA status are due by Oct. 5, and the clinics assist those whose status is set to expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018. There are approximately 2,000 people in New Mexico protected by DACA at the moment who will be in need of renewal before the October deadline.
“We want people to know what their rights are so that their rights are not being violated,” said Molinar. “We have a lot of battles coming up. This is a fight that we all have to fight together.”
In order to renew the status of DACA recipients, a $495 processing fee is required and events like the clinic are set up to not only help people pay that fee, but to answer any questions people might have about the remainder of the program. The Trump administration has given a six-month window for Congress to approve new legislation on the program. In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website states that those under the program will be able to keep their status for both deferred action and work permits until they expire or are revoked for some reason. This will allow the thousands of people to remain focused on either their careers or school.
The decision to terminate the program has sent many organizers into overdrive as they attempt to secure everything for the people they serve. Gabriela Hernandez, executive director of the New Mexico Dream Team, is one such organizer who has dedicated her life recently to helping those who are in fear of losing their status as deferred action in the U.S.
“We were told so many times that DACA was not possible, and now that it’s terminated, we’re going for more,” said Hernandez. “DACA benefited a lot of our undocumented community to be able to continue their education, to be able to work, to be able to not have economic burden, to have health care.”
Hernandez is not only the organizer of the group and the face of the organization, but a proud recipient of the DACA status. She says it has greatly benefited her life. Receiving deferred action during her senior year of college, Hernandez used her status to complete her education and is looking at pursuing a master’s degree in the future. Separated from members of her family at a young age, Hernandez said she understands the struggles immigrants go through for a better life here in the U.S. and is fighting for the immigrant community to retain the deferred action status.
DACA status can be revoked by the Department of Homeland Security, and many immigrants live in fear of that on a daily basis, including Hernandez, who moved from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, as a child.
“A lot of our families are not part of organizations or movements; they are alone,” said Hernandez. “When [DACA] is taken away, they’re not going to be able to heal and to be able to process that with the rest of the community if they are alone having that anxiety with themselves and their families. Our community had been under attack all of this administration.”
Despite the news, Hernandez and Molinar are hopeful for the future and are encouraging those who are seeking help to remain informed on the situation. Currently, those protected under DACA are not subject to deportation just yet and are still able to live in the U.S. Many of them have property, cars and normal lives they have been living due to the policy and are looking for other solutions to the removal of the program.
For more information, visit the New Mexico Dream Team website at nmdreamteam.org.