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Thousands of Dreamers may miss deadline to renew DACA permits, deportation protection

FILE: Demonstrators on the campus of Metropolitan State University in Denver protest President Trump's decision to end the DACA program.
FILE: Demonstrators on the campus of Metropolitan State University in Denver protest President Trump's decision to end the DACA program.
Tatiana Flowers/AP

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The rush is on among young immigrants to renew temporary permits and deportation protection one last time before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, phases out. But many may not make the approaching deadline.

When the Trump administration rescinded the program last week, it set a renewal deadline of Oct. 5 for young unauthorized immigrants whose DACA status is set to expire between now and March 5 when the program ends.

If they meet the deadline, can continue to work and live in the U.S. legally for another two years. But tens of thousands are up for renewal with three weeks left to go.

In California alone, there are about 220,000 DACA recipients, according to federal data. Using the same data, University of Southern California sociologist Manuel Pastor calculates that about one-fourth of those recipients — about 55,000 people — are due for renewal in the next six months.

"That 55,000 — which is [like] trying to cram six months into one month — if we have to do it in the next three weeks, it amounts to about 2,500 renewals a day," Pastor said.

The deadline places an "enormous stress, certainly on those individuals, but also on the kinds of systems that we have in place to help people with their DACA renewals," she said.

Nationwide, about one-fourth of the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, are estimated to be up for renewal, Pastor said. 

Local legal service providers who are processing DACA renewals are already seeing the crush of renewal applicants.

"Since Wednesday of last week, we have been processing at least 35 to 45 renewal applications every single day," said Jorge Mario Cabrera with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which is providing pro bono legal assistance for DACA recipients.

"On Saturday, we had over 130 people lined up outside out offices. And also yesterday, on Tuesday, we had over 100 people lined up," he said.

Martha Arevalo with the Central American Resource Center near downtown Los Angeles said there's also the challenge of getting the word out to those who may not know about the October deadline.

"It is truly a hardship to reach out to so many people who are eligible for renewal in such a [short] period of time," Arevalo said. "It is a massive undertaking, but we have to do the best we can."

Coupled with the intense demand is a shortage of free or low-cost legal help, which could place another obstacle before many DACA recipients, Pastor said. Coming up quickly with federal renewal fees that run close to $500 poses another challenge. 

"It's very likely that a lot of people who would have been eligible to apply over the next six months are not going to be able to find their way to getting the cash necessary to pay the renewal fees, or finding access to a service provider to help them," Pastor said. "So there will be a lot of people who will unnecessarily be losing their work authorization within the country."  

Some organizations are helping applicants with renewal costs. Cabrera at CHIRLA said the organization has set up a fund with donor money to assist those who can't cover their renewal fees.

Luz Borjon Montalvo, who runs California State University, Los Angeles' Glazer Family Dreamers Resource Center, said the center's endowment will help DACA students who come to the center with their fees. But getting them legal assistance is another challenge, she said. 

The center, which is set up to help immigrant students with financial aid and other issues, has shifted its focus to helping students renew their DACA applications, Borjon said. With help from a student who completed a legal internship, students are helped in completing their renewal forms on their own. Those who finish are trained to help others.

Borjon said she is trying to bring in in some free legal help, but for now, students helping students is better than nothing.

“Unless we have an attorney here, there is no other option," she said.

The renewal rush could also put pressure on the federal government.

Officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said in an email to KPCC that "USCIS is well-versed in processing DACA applications and will allocate resources as needed to help meet any increase in requests.”