Photo Courtesy of CHIRLA

If your Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) deferment and work permit expires between now and March 5 next year, you must renew it by Oct. 5.

And that’s what thousands of so-called “DREAMers” — those who benefit by the immigration program launched by President Obama five years ago — have been doing since President Trump announced an end to the program earlier this month.

The termination is scheduled for March 5, 2018, and thousands of beneficiaries are rushing to renew their work permits, hoping they can stay employed even beyond that deadline.

The DACA program — which allows some immigrants who came to the US before the age of 16 to work and go to school without the fear of being deported — has benefited more than 750,000 people. One in four of them, or about 215,000, lives in California.

People were assured that if they came out of the shadows and identified themselves with the use of DACA, they wouldn’t have reason to fear being penalized or suffer consequences. But now they find themselves very much at risk. 

After the Trump administration announced the end of the program, California and several states filed lawsuits in New York federal court on Sept. 5 to try and stop the President’s action from proceeding. Some legal scholars put the odds of it succeeding at less than 50 percent.

Several organizations have donated funds to help offset the $495 cost of DACA renewals. The Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles is offering to pay for this partly or entirely for Mexicans. But the applicants must find the money first in order to get a reimbursement check later.

Jessica Murrieta, a Pacoima resident, paid for her renewal out of her pocket.

The 22-year-old came to the United States in 2004 and applied for DACA soon after the program was announced. She works at an elementary school in San Fernando and attends California State University Northridge (CSUN).

Her DACA was to expire in January 2018. Her new permit expires in September 2019.

“I renewed it because I go to college and because I am currently employed,” she said of her decision to go ahead and renew despite the uncertainty and worries about what will happen next March.

Like many others, she’s looking for a positive outcome.

“I am hoping that the government sees our side, the DREAMers side, and can give us a chance to work legally in the US and help the economy, as well as give us an opportunity to graduate from college and be a better person,” Murrieta said.

“I just hope they see the economic benefits of having us here and how taking away DACA will affect the US economy in a negative way in the long run. Also, how we are not criminals, just people looking for a chance.”

Request for an Extension

Some legislators are seeking to push back that Oct. 5 deadline.

In the wake of three massive storms that have disrupted the lives of millions of people in the United States, Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and 37 fellow US Senators called on the Trump administration to do just that.

The request was made on Monday, Sept. 25, in a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke.

“These major hurricanes significantly disrupted day-to-day living and operations in these states and territories,” the lawmakers wrote. “It would be appropriate for the government to extend the October 5, 2017 deadline nationwide to allow individuals adequate time to meet the government’s recent request.”

The lawmakers fear the recent disruptions caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria could make it nearly impossible for some eligible dreamers to meet the deadline.

“Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico are still working to recover and will be for some time,” the letter said. “An extension of the deadline would provide DACA recipients more time to collect the $495 application fee and gather the necessary documents to accurately complete the renewal application.”

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), tens of thousands of DACA recipients live in areas impacted by the storms.

Fight for the DREAM Act

But DREAMers are not only renewing their DACA, they’re also fighting for a permanent solution to their immigration incertitude.

Earlier this week they announced an all-out effort — called “Yes on DREAM Act Campaign” — to make calls, send emails and knock on Congressmen’s doors to ask them to support the latest version of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), a bill that would legalize DREAMers permanently instead of temporarily.

“What happened to DACA was unfortunate, but we should see that as a new beginning for all youth and immigrant families to continue fighting for a permanent solution,” said Melody Klingenfuss, who was born in Guatemala and was brought to the United States at age 9.

“I grew up not knowing I was undocumented,” she said.

Klingenfuss noted that “DACA opened so many doors for me,” allowing her to attend USC and realize many of her dreams.

Diana Colin, director of civic engagement for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), said, “we need a pathway for citizenship.”

This week, a delegation of DREAMers, activists and CHIRLA members headed to Washington, D.C. trying to meet with Congress and press legislators to bring the DREAM Act for a floor vote or attach it to a must pass legislation, two of the ways for the legislation to come to fruition.

“We’re going to make phone calls, knock on doors and ask voters to call their representatives and ask for a clean bill,” Colin said.

For DREAMers, the issue is of utmost importance as uncertainty creeps in.

Mayra Mejia, 23, who was born in Michoacan and came to the U.S. when she was 7, is one of those being affected.

“Now as a (college) senior, I’m about to graduate and I don’t know what’s going to happen or if I’ll be able to pursue my career,” she said.

For Paulina Ruiz, she could not only lose her job, but the health insurance that comes with it. The 26-year-old has cerebral palsy and moves about with the help of a wheelchair.

She was one of the first to get DACA back in 2012.  She attended UCLA where she obtained a degree in Spanish and Literature.

Ruiz, who works at CHIRLA, said having health insurance helps her pay for the medicines and frequent doctor visits she needs instead of having to depend on visits to an emergency room.

Because she is undocumented, Ruiz cannot qualify for any government health programs.

“I believe in the DREAM Act and we deserve the chance to be here, respectfully, so we can keep working,” Ruiz said. “I will not stop until we get a permanent solution. This fight that will be long; but, ultimately, if we stand together we can win.”

Both CHIRLA and the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles are offering free help with the DACA renewals. CHIRLA has clinics on Tuesdays, Thurs-days and Saturdays. For more information, call (213) 353-1333. The Mexican Consulate has a clinic this Saturday, Sept. 30, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at their offices, located at 2401 W. 6th St., in Los Angeles. For more details, call (213) 368-2731.