Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Deportation deferrals expiring, immigrants seek to renew status

Siblings Gabriel, Angel and Teresita Amador (l. to r.)  attend a workshop on applying for deferred action in 2012.
Siblings Gabriel, Angel and Teresita Amador (l. to r.) attend a workshop on applying for deferred action in 2012.
Josie Huang/KPCC

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As the Obama administration struggles with an influx of migrant children at the Southwest border, its program to help young people brought to the country illegally years earlier is reaching the two-year mark. 

More than half a million young adults have been able to avoid deportations under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program that started Aug. 2012.

Deportation deferrals under the program are good for two years– and beginning next month – they will come up for renewal. Immigrants under the program, often called DACA, must reapply or lose this special status.

At the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles, legal assistant Diego Coaguila, said DACA recipients started the renewal process in June.

“We’re seeing at steady number of folks renewing – at least 10 a week,” Coaguila said.

There are questions as to whether DACA would continue under a Republican administration. Critics of the program see it as a form of amnesty and a new bill from  Rep. Ted Cruz aims to defund the program. 

But DACA recipients are still motivated to renew their status, despite the uncertainities and the $465 application fee, said Ana Garcia, the resource center’s policy coordinator and a DACA recipient herself. The program allows them to get a work permit and apply for a driver’s license. Losing status could disrupt their income source.

“Maybe they can be let go. A lot of their life might change because they might stop working,” Garcia said.

California has the highest participation rate of any state, and is expected to have the most renewals.

“California is quite interesting,” said Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies immigration trends. “Seventeen metropolitan areas make up 95 percent of California’s applicants and 27 percent of all applications in the whole country.”

Newly-released numbers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show that Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Francisco are in the top 10 metro areas where applicants live.

Singer, who analyzed the data that spans Aug. 2012 to Sept. 2013, said those areas are where some of the largest concentrations of young people lacking legal status are – as are the community groups to help them.

“They're able to bring (applicants) in and screen them and help them fill out applications, help them find the right materials to document their continuous residence in this country,” Singer said.

At the Central American Resource Center, for example, Coaguila expects the number of people seeking help renewing their status to double by August.