Trump administration refuses to accept new applications for DACA program

July 28, 2020

People rally outside the Supreme Court as oral arguments are heard in the case of President Trump's decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, at the Supreme Court in Washington.

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After the Supreme Court ruled last month that the Trump administration’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program nearly three years ago, was “arbitrary and capricious,” undocumented youth who have been barred from applying to the program while it was being litigated were hopeful that new applications would once again be accepted.

That hope ended Tuesday when the Trump administration announced it will continue to deny new applications to the program that provides temporary relief from deportation, a work permit and access to a Social Security card, among other benefits.

In California, there are an estimated 4,000 undocumented students enrolled in the 10-campus UC system, about 9,500 at California State University’s 23 campuses and up to 70,000 in the state’s 115 community colleges. About half of those students are estimated to have DACA certification.

Those who already qualified for DACA will be allowed to apply for a renewal. But the federal government will now require that they renew their application every year, rather than the previously-established two years while the Trump administration reviews the entire program.  That means beneficiaries will have to pay an added $495 application fee.

Across the country, there are nearly 650,000 young immigrants who have received temporary relief from deportation through the DACA program and hundreds of thousands more who are currently eligible or could become eligible to receive similar relief based on their age and meeting additional educational requirements.

A majority of the undocumented students about to enter UC and other colleges and universities, along with some currently enrolled ones, do not already have DACA certification. They are the ones who will be most affected by Tuesday’s announcement, according to Maria Blanco, executive director of the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center. “Having the threat of deportation hanging over you when you’re trying to be enrolled and stay in school — the uncertainty really takes a toll on them,” said Blanco. “The other thing is that they cannot work without DACA … so it really has a financial impact on them.”

Tuesday’s memo, released by the Department of Homeland Security, comes nearly two months after a June 18 Supreme Court decision that found that the Trump administration had failed to follow proper procedures to end the program. Immigration attorneys have been largely unified in saying the decision required the administration to begin accepting new applications. “I do think it’s in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Vivek Mittal, managing attorney at the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center, referring to the terms laid out in the memo.

A federal judge in Maryland ruled earlier this month that the DACA program should be restored as it existed before September 5, 2017, the date it was rescinded by the Trump administration. But until now the administration had not indicated whether it would accept new applications.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday that his office would file a legal challenge against the Trump administration’s response to the Supreme Court ruling. “The courts have spoken — DACA is in full effect, including for new applications,” he said. “We know what it takes to defend DACA. We will do it again if necessary.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the government agency that processes DACA applications, has not accepted new applicants since the program was rescinded, despite thousands of people across the country meeting the program’s eligibility rules.

Leidy Leon, 18, has spent the past few weeks gathering her documents to apply for DACA for the first time. The news that she will not be able to submit those documents came as she shock as she prepares to move near UC Merced, where she will start college this fall.

“I got a text with the link to the actual memo, and I forgot to breathe for a minute,” said Leon, who recently graduated from high school in Watsonville on California’s Central Coast. “It was disappointing, frustrating, a deep sorrow in a way. After I kind of composed myself a little bit, I checked in with a couple of friends who are in the same situation to show my support for them.”

Immigration attorneys are encouraging those eligible for the program to continue gathering the documents required to apply, despite Tuesday’s announcement.

But, for DACA-eligible immigrants and their families, the situation they find themselves in is extremely challenging.

“This can feel like a very isolating moment where people just want to curl up,” said Leon. “I know that feeling where you don’t want to do anything. I’m just tired and frustrated. But everybody who is going through this — they are not alone. There are thousands of young people going through the same thing, and we will continue to fight.”

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