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Donors, state putting up funds so DACA recipients can pay their renewal fees

Aimee Meraz with Public Counsel in Los Angeles assists Cesar, 20, in filling out an application for renewal of his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, work permit and deportation protection.
Aimee Meraz with Public Counsel in Los Angeles assists Cesar, 20, in filling out an application for renewal of his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, work permit and deportation protection.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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Some young immigrants facing an Oct. 5 deadline to renew work permits and deportation protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program are receiving help to pay their $495 renewal fees.

On Friday morning, young people crowded a meeting room at the Koreatown office of Public Counsel, a pro bono legal firm, to get legal help filling out the renewal forms. A private donor who asked for anonymity put up $50,000 that will cover almost all of the DACA recipients' renewal costs.

It's not an isolated case. Other legal service providers have successfully raised money for those who can't pay their renewal fees. At Cal State Los Angeles, an immigrant students' resource center has used its endowment funds to assist DACA students with their fees. A San Francisco-based asset fund has announced "scholarships" for DACA recipients who need to renew.

State leaders also recently approved an additional $20 million for an existing immigrant-integration program that will be earmarked as aid for DACA recipients.

Earlier this month, President Trump rescinded the DACA program, which allows about 800,000 young immigrants who arrived in the country without authorization as minors to live and work in the U.S. legally.

DACA recipients whose protection and work permits were set to expire before March 5 — when the program is set to end — were given a month to apply for a two-year renewal one last time.

It's been a mad rush since. According to federal data, as of Sept. 4, there were almost 97,000 DACA recipients who would be eligible to renew by the October deadline, but who had yet to file a renewal application.

Cesar, a 20-year-old college student from East Los Angeles, was among them. He asked his last name not be used because he fears deportation. His DACA status was set to expire in December. On Friday at the Public Counsel office, he said he and other friends have been scrambling to get legal help.

"We all decided to look for workshops such as these, to be able to renew as soon as possible, because time isn't really on our side," said Cesar.

He had already socked away a little bit of money from working part-time to pay for the $495 renewal fee. But like others, he was caught short by the Trump administration's DACA announcement.

For many, coming up with almost $500 in a hurry proved a major obstacle, said Judy London, directing attorney for Public Counsel's immigrant rights project.

“These DACA beneficiaries are often working two jobs and paying college tuition," London said. "There is just not $495 lying around.”   

So the firm, which is holding legal workshops through the weekend, will be paying DACA recipients' legal fees, "thanks to a very generous donor," London said.

The state's additional $20 million is "an infusion just for this year," said Gina Da Silva, senior policy advocate for the California Immigrant Policy Center, a legal advocacy organization.

The funds will cover services that include consultation and screening people for other programs besides DACA. But it also includes reimbursements for the renewal fees.

But the use of state money to help DACA recipients doesn't sit well with some, like Tea Party activist John Berry of Redlands. 

"California shouldn't be trying to cover the cost of something that is unconstitutional in the first place," Berry said. "This is another example where the state of California is more interested in sticking it to (President) Trump than they are about doing what is legally right." 

London at Public Counsel said the private donation the firm received will only cover about 90 DACA recipients' renewal fees.

"It's a drop in the bucket, but then it does encourage other folks to step up," London said. "And most importantly, the state of California has stepped up." 

Public Counsel plans to refer those whose fees it can't cover to another nonprofit that is getting state funds.

This story has been updated.