Thursday is the last chance for recipients of the federal immigration program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to renew their status. After that, the federal government has announced it will wind down the program, which allows residents brought into the country illegally as children to remain and work without fear of deportation.
To meet the Thursday deadline, applicants and immigration attorneys have been busy gathering all of the documentation required to seek a two-year renewal of their status. Over the last month, attorneys say, there’s been a steady stream of clients seeking help from Dorcas International Institute, a nonprofit immigrant services organization in Providence.
Tatyana Tsangarakis-Almeida, who leads a group of lawyers and legal aids at Dorcas, says her team has handled about 50 DACA renewal applications in the last four weeks.
“Everybody is clocking in more hours, they’re working Saturdays, sometimes staying evenings, trying to accommodate as many people as possible for DACA,” Tsangarakis-Almeida said, adding that lawyers have also had to keep up with their other cases.
Tsangarakis-Almeida has witnessed firsthand the sometimes arduous process of applying for DACA, which involves compiling a paper trail to prove continuous U.S. residence dating back to at least 2007.
“I save certain things too, but as mementos, it’s not like I’m saving my entire school records, or my medical records, or my gym membership to show that I was present from November 2013 until whenever,” Tsangarakis-Almeida said. “Most of us don’t ever have to think about something like that, but they do.”
Created in 2012 through an executive order from then-president Barack Obama, the DACA program was available only to people between the ages of 15 and 31. Federal immigration authorities reported that 9,000 people received DACA status in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
In Rhode Island, immigration advocates estimate that only a few dozen DACA recipients applied for a two-year renewal prior to Thursday's deadline, the last chance to do so before the program ends. The $500 dollar cost for each application was covered by a state program that raised money through grants and donations
“People don’t realize what kind of efforts have to go into this whole production,” Tsangarakis-Almeida said. “What money is involved, what paperwork is involved, what these kids actually have to go through.”
Tsangarakis-Almeida adds that even if her clients get their renewal, the status lasts for only two years. After that they will face the difficult question of whether to remain in the country illegally or take steps to become citizens, a process that can take years and may require the applicant to return to a country they have not seen since childhood.
President Donald Trump, whose administration announced the decision to end the DACA program, has called on Congress to pass legislation that would address DACA recipients.