LANGLEY PARK, Md. (Oct. 04, 2017)—After President Donald Trump's decision in early September to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, immigrants who need to reapply for DACA protections—in the form of two-year renewable work permits—are quickly running out of time.
The government is not accepting new applications and will stop accepting renewal applications on Oct. 5 from immigrants, or "dreamers" as they are often called, whose work permits expire between Sept. 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018. On Sept. 5, Trump gave Congress six months to find a legislative solution to address the program.
For the immigrants, there is "a lot of uncertainty, fear as to what's going to happen," said Marysabel Rodriguez-Nanney, 47, an immigration lawyer and founder of the law firm Rodriguez-Nanney PA Attorney at Law in Annapolis, Maryland.
About 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants have received work permits and protections from deportation since DACA was created under President Barack Obama in 2012. Roughly 689,000 undocumented immigrants are protected by the program, according to data from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
As of Sept. 4, there were about 8,100 Marylanders enrolled in the DACA program, which makes up about 1.2 percent of the U.S. total, according to the immigration services data.
CASA, an immigrants' rights organization headquartered in Langley Park, Maryland, has been focused on helping immigrants get legal assistance before the deadline.
CASA operates in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania and has more than 90,000 members, making it the largest membership-based immigrant's rights group in the Mid-Atlantic region, Nicholas Katz, senior manager of legal services for CASA, told the University of Maryland's Capital News Service.
CASA is the largest DACA-service provider in Maryland and over the last five years, CASA has helped more than 3,000 immigrants either initially apply or reapply for DACA, said Katz.
Katz, 37, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, stressed that DACA renewal applications have to be marked as received by Oct. 5, so an application mailed to the immigration services agency on Oct. 5 would not be valid.
CASA has conducted three DACA renewal clinics in Maryland since Trump's announcement, including one on Saturday at its Langley Park headquarters.
Immigrants arrived at CASA's DACA clinic Saturday morning at 10. They signed in, payed a $50 fee and then met with CASA lawyers and trained volunteers who helped them complete their renewal applications.
CASA lawyers also performed a comprehensive screening to see whether they were eligible for some form of permanent status.
Jorge Gomez, 20, is a student at Prince George's Community College and lives in Hyattsville, Maryland. He came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was almost 2 and has had DACA protections since 2012. He was one of the first at the clinic Saturday.
His two-year work permit expires in January.
He said he believes organizations like CASA are essential.
"It would be more difficult to renew my DACA without CASA," he said. "You feel better knowing you have CASA to help you out because they understand where you're coming from."
Gomez is enrolled in the National External Diploma Program at the college, where he is earning his high school diploma.
Eliseo Magos, 23, lives in Capitol Heights, Maryland, and is a DACA dreamer originally from Mexico. He works for CASA as a DACA promoter.
The DACA clinics are helpful, he said, because they are much more affordable than seeking official legal help.
"We don't charge the same as official lawyers," Magos said, noting that CASA only requires the $50 fee.
Imani Cherry, a 26-year-old law student at American University in Washington, volunteered at the clinic Saturday.
"Our school is big on human rights," Cherry said, "and once I got information from my professors about the clinic, I jumped at the chance to help."
"If you can help, help," she said.
Jovan Aquino, 20, a University of Maryland biochemistry student living in Kensington, Maryland, also volunteered his time.
"I've been privileged being an American citizen," he said. "I want to use that privilege to help others."
Rodriguez-Nanney's law firm has handled five DACA renewal cases this year, but only one since Trump's announcement.
When immigrants are reapplying for DACA protections, Rodriguez-Nanney said, they have to first indicate that their application is a renewal, submit a copy of their existing work permit and submit their original DACA approval notice to the immigration services agency.
Immigrants then need to fill out two applications: a DACA renewal application and a new work permit application. They must also submit a worksheet indicating why they need a new work permit. All of these forms must be submitted together to the immigration services agency.
The application process can take some time. There are 42 pages that immigrants have to read and fill out. But once the application is completed, it usually takes about an hour to prepare the application packet and three months for immigration services to process the application, said Rodriguez-Nanney.
Immigrants also have to pay a $495 renewal fee.
Despite the Oct. 5 deadline, "it's still the same (DACA) renewal process," said Rodriguez-Nanney.