With DACA renewal deadline past, locals look to Congress
When she learned she was eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, 32-year-old Roxana didn’t hesitate to apply.
DACA, which former President Barack Obama enacted via executive action in 2012, meant she’d have to come out of the shadows as an undocumented immigrant. But it also meant she’d be able to work legally and live without fear of deportation.
“It made a big difference,” said Roxana, a southeastern Connecticut resident who agreed to share her story with The Day but requested anonymity so as not to draw more attention to her plight. “I was so much more free.”
President Donald Trump’s decision last month to end DACA — he gave recipients until Thursday to renew their applications and called on Congress to act within six months — turned Roxana’s life upside down.
Roxana, a native of El Salvador, was brought to the country when she was about 14, around the year 1997. Over the last two decades, she made this country her home. She married a U.S. citizen. Together, they had a child who’s now 8 months old. And there’s another one on the way, she said.
People who came here on work visas, student visas and even tourist visas can get a green card through marriage. That’s not the case for almost all of the people who illegally were brought to the country as children.
Surrounded by U.S. citizens but with little hope for citizenship, Roxana’s is a story many of the 800,000 DACA recipients have in common.
“My country? I don’t want to go back,” she said. “Everything is here. I have my own house, my husband, my children. Basically, I have nothing there.”
She renewed her status about a month before Trump’s announcement. If Congress can’t agree on legislation addressing the issue by March 5, Roxana could be deported beginning in summer 2019.
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A majority of immigrants who were eligible to renew their DACA status did so before Thursday’s deadline, said Mike Doyle, founder of the Immigration Advocacy & Support Center in New London.
“There’s no increased risk to them for renewing,” Doyle said, noting that the government already has their age, address and even their fingerprints. “They’ve just got to come up with (the $495 fee) to pull the trigger.”
Doyle, who said his office has spent about one-third of its time on DACA-related issues since last year’s presidential election, urged members of Congress to “do their job.”
“I think it’s fairly universal sentiment that the (immigration) system is broken,” Doyle said. “I mean, for how many decades have we said this now?”
“I don’t think there’s anybody who’s against enforcing reasonable and organized policies and laws,” he continued. “And of course no one can disagree with the fact that this is a very hard issue to deal with. But that’s their job. They know it’s broken. It’s their job to try and fix it.”
Of DACA recipients in particular, Doyle urged people to remember they’re upstanding people who are contributing to the economy.
Requirements for DACA are rigorous. Recipients must have arrived to the country before 2007 at age 15 or younger. They can’t have been older than 30 when the program was enacted. They can’t have any felonies or significant misdemeanors on their records. They have to be enrolled in high school or have a high school diploma or the equivalent. They have to provide information about where they live and submit to fingerprinting. And they have to renew their enrollment every two years — with a fee of almost $500.
“The American ideals are embodied within these people,” Doyle said. “Let them stay.”
Another DACA recipient in the region, Yeni Cortes, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, said that while the program has ended, "we are still strong and will keep fighting."
"Members of both parties must know that our community demands a clean Dream Act and we will fight for all 11 million undocumented people," Cortes said Thursday by email. "Our communities have had enough of being attacked and living with fear. We have suffered too much."
And many Connecticut politicians and organizations weighed in this week as the DACA renewal period drew to a close.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called on the Department of Homeland Security to extend the deadline and urged Congress to provide a permanent solution for immigrant youth. 2-1-1 Connecticut reminded DACA recipients to renew and pointed them in the right direction. Connecticut Students for a Dream issued a series of powerful statements pledging to fight until Congress passes the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017 — without alterations.
And The Neighbor Fund, which supports the immigrant communities of Windham and Tolland counties, announced a Saturday social to raise funds for its work, which consists of providing immigrants with legal support and help paying for the costly process of applying for residency.
“We are in real need of funds for what we anticipate to be a number of difficult years ahead for immigrants and their families,” the coalition wrote on its Facebook page.
"The need for a clean Dream Act where our families and friends are not targeted as bargaining chips is urgent," Cortes wrote in her email. "We are simply human beings trying to live with dignity and we won't stop until we do because we are here to stay.”
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