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After court ruling, DACA applicants urged to get their paperwork ready

FILE: Aimee Meraz with Public Counsel in Los Angeles assists a young immigrant last fall to fill out his application for renewal of deportation protection and a work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
FILE: Aimee Meraz with Public Counsel in Los Angeles assists a young immigrant last fall to fill out his application for renewal of deportation protection and a work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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The past several months have been a roller coaster ride for Gabriel, a 24-year-old college student whose protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, is due to expire in August.

Gabriel, who asked his last name not be used because he fears deportation, became engaged to his girlfriend last year. They began planning for a big wedding in 2019, after she graduates from college.

Then in September, President Trump rescinded DACA, which allows roughly 800,000 young unauthorized immigrants to temporarily live and work in the United States legally with renewals every two years. Those whose DACA permits were due to expire before March 5 were allowed to renew them once more. 

This left Gabriel out. He and his fiancee, who is a U.S. citizen, decided they should marry sooner.

“With everything going on right now, we wanted to do it as soon as possible, before anything," said Gabriel. He came to the U.S. at age 6, when his family arrived here from the Philippines and overstayed their visas.

Then late Tuesday, a federal judge in San Francisco issued a temporary order that puts Trump's cancellation of DACA on hold. The federal government was ordered to continue accepting DACA renewal applications for those who are already in the program, until lawsuits brought by the state of California and other plaintiffs are resolved.

The court decision gave the couple breathing room. Gabriel can apply to renew his DACA status, and the wedding can wait for now.

"We get to finish our plans, and finish school," said Gabriel, who lives in Santa Clarita and is studying kinesiology. 

U.S. immigration officials have yet to issue new guidance on DACA renewals based on the court decision. But legal advisers like Alma Rosa Nieto, a Los Angeles immigration attorney, are urging would-be renewal applicants to get their paperwork together – and to do it fast.

"They should start preparing all their documentation, so that when we get a green light, they are ready," Nieto said. "Like the photos, the immigration fees, looking at their old applications and the documents they used to support their old applications, so they can replicate it through the new process."

This is because the Trump administration will likely appeal the court ruling. Department of Justice officials have insisted that DACA was terminated lawfully, saying in an emailed statement that the department "will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”

Meanwhile, as Congress and the White House wrangle over DACA-related legislation, local legal service providers say they've been receiving queries from DACA recipients. Some are people whose permits are soon to expire, or have already expired because they were not able to renew within a one-month window set by the Trump administration that closed Oct. 5.

Rebecca Medina, an attorney with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said her organization is already helping a few clients who were rejected because they filed too late or had incomplete applications. 

"The logic that we're using is that if you are eligible at this point to renew, send in your renewal application, because if they reverse or appeal their decision, those persons might still be in the pipeline ... and have their applications accepted," Medina said.  

The court decision only applies to DACA recipients who are eligible for renewal, not to new DACA program applicants.