DACA Recipients Uncertain of Unprotected Future in the U.S.

By Andrea Johnson

The Razorback Reporter

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals forms and fees submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will no longer be accepted.

Officials stopped accepting DACA requests Sept. 5, after President Donald Trump rescinded the 2012 executive order by former President Barack Obama. Renewals were accepted until Oct. 5 for DACA recipients whose applications would expire between Sept. 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018.

Elaine Duke, acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, issued a memorandum Sept. 5 announcing that the agency may phase out DACA.

DACA granted protection from deportation and work authorization in the U.S. for up to two years for eligible immigrants who entered the country illegally. Requirements apply to individuals who arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday and were not older than 31 by June 15, 2012, among other restrictions. Renewals were granted to applicants who met the requirements and paid $495 in fees every two years.

As of Sept. 4 of this year, 689,800 residents are living in the U.S. under DACA, according to immigration data. More than three-fourths of recipients, 79.4 percent, came from Mexico. Arkansas is home to 4,700 DACA recipients, less than one percent of the total DACA population.

Immigration attorney Drew Devenport met with more clients concerned about their status under DACA in the past month than in previous months during this four-and-a-half years working at the Davis Law Firm in Springdale, he said. He typically meets an average of seven DACA recipients or applicants a month, he said. Between Sept. 6 and Oct. 3, Devenport scheduled 33 DACA-related appointments and spoke with others by phone.

Devenport screened clients to determine their eligibility. That helped ineligible clients avoid wasting time and money in the case of a denied application, Devenport said.

“Screenings are also good just because it allows you to meet with an attorney and basically discuss if you have any kind criminal history or concerns about your eligibility,” Devenport said.

Immigration Services aims to process renewal requests in less than 120 days, according to the website. Clients might wait 30 days or up to 180 days before knowing whether their application was processed successfully, Devenport said.

Springdale resident Mishell Quintero renewed her DACA application in January and may legally live and work in the U.S. until January 2019. Quintero, originally from Mexico City, Mexico, arrived in the U.S. at age 7 in 2001 and applied for DACA after she graduated from high school in 2013.

Quintero waited to apply until after graduation so she could focus on schoolwork, she said. From start to finish, she spent at least three months gathering personal records and submitting required materials to obtain DACA.

Under DACA, Quintero gained the ability to pursue higher education at Northwest Arkansas Community College, build credit, buy a house and accomplish other goals while living in the U.S., the “land of opportunity,” she said.

“It’s done so much. Without it, I honestly don’t know what I would be doing right now,” Quintero said.

When she first heard that DACA would be phased out, she did not react emotionally to the news, she said. But as time went on, “a feeling of despair and loss,” she said, came over her.

“It feels like a death of somebody,” Quintero said. “If there’s no legislation passed, our livelihoods are going to change dramatically.”

KenDrell Collins, a third-year law student at the UA School of Law, helped DACA recipients over the past month through the UA Immigration Clinic. He sees concern from people who worry about their uncertain future after their DACA expires, he said.

During the six-month phase-out period that ends March 5, 2018, Congress may give DACA recipients another means of legal protection.

“Obviously, nobody knows what they’re going to do,” Collins said. “There’s speculation, but there’s no guarantee that (DACA recipients) will get protection, which is the scary part for a lot of people.”

For now, people can only advocate for an effective DACA replacement program and challenge Congress to create new law, Collins said.

“They call it a ‘wind down of the DACA program,’ but if you’re going to wind this program down, you need to create a new one – another opportunity for people who were brought here as children,” Collins said.