MORRISTOWN, N.J. — Thais Marques of Newark says she is anxious to file paperwork to extend her temporary protection from deportation for two years, even though her work permit doesn’t expire until October.
Similarly, Cinthia Osorio of Dover plans to submit her renewal application next month, before her deportation deferral expires in August. But Monserrath Campos of Paterson, whose protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program are good until September, plans to wait before sending her application. She worries that it might be rejected for being submitted too early and that she would forfeit the $495 application fee.
The divergent approaches reflect the state of confusion over the shifting status of DACA, which was created in 2012 by President Barack Obama and so far has granted work permits and protection from deportation to nearly 800,000 young immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States as children.
Immigration attorneys like Darren Maloney of Paterson and Jerard Gonzalez of Hackensack have been reaching out to clients whose DACA protections have expired or will expire in the coming months, urging them to submit their renewal applications as soon as possible. They say they are worried that the window to renew will be narrow and that developments in Washington on Friday, or in the federal court system, could leave their clients at risk of deportation.
“We are sort of numb. We don’t know how to react,” said Gonzalez, a former chairman of the New Jersey chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “They are given something, then it’s taken away and then they get it back. We could only tell people to follow the law as it is today.”
The seeds for the current state of confusion over DACA were sown in September, when President Donald Trump announced that he was ending the program but would allow those whose protections were to expire by March 5 to renew them for a final two years. The state of California sued the administration, and on Jan. 9, a federal judge in San Francisco issued a nationwide injunction ordering the Trump administration to keep the program running while the legal challenge proceeds.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services resumed processing renewal applications on Tuesday. Later that day, the administration filed an appeal and announced its intention to petition the Supreme Court to review the case.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Dreamers is at the center of a partisan dispute on Capitol Hill, where Democrats have made a deal protecting the Dreamers from deportation a condition of their support for a short-term deal to fund the federal government through mid-February. The House and Senate must pass a spending bill by Friday to avert a government shutdown.
On Jan. 9, Trump said he would sign a “bill of love” that protected the Dreamers, but negotiations suffered a setback two days later when the president reportedly disparaged African nations as “shithole countries” in a White House meeting with a bipartisan group of senators.
On Sunday, Trump declared on Twitter that DACA was “probably dead.”
The rapid developments have left DACA recipients, including 17,400 in New Jersey, frustrated.
“At this point, I’m like, can I or can I not apply?” said Osorio, 22, a community organizer for the Wind of the Spirit, a organization in Morristown that helps immigrants and is lobbying for legislation to help immigrants living in the country without legal permission stay. “At this point, you are literally playing with our emotions and having a negative effect on our daily lives. For me, I have already talked to my parents that, in case I have to go, I told them to know that I love you. We already said goodbye, essentially, and then to have this light of hope that maybe I could renew my DACA and for this comment to come out again — you wonder why they are doing this.”
Osorio, who was born in Mexico and arrived in the United States at age 3, says she is still hopeful that lawmakers will reach an agreement.
A long-term solution for the Dreamers “has to be included in the spending bill,” she said, “and I really hope that Democrats and Republicans are able to stand with DACA recipients. This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It’s a bigger issue, and we are talking about lives, and we are already seeing the detrimental effects it has had on individuals.”
Campos, 24, a student at Passaic County Community College, came to the United States from Costa Rica when she was 6 years old. DACA has allowed her to work, to pay for her expenses, including school, and to obtain a driver’s license. The last few months have been stressful, she said.
“We are not numbers, we are people, and that’s the most important point to get across,” she said this week. “I’m a human being, working the hardest I’ve ever had to for something that is temporary, but not permanent. We are hanging in limbo.”
Marques, who was born in Brazil, said she wants to submit her DACA renewal as soon as possible, and even applied and received a grant to cover the $495 application fee. Her DACA protections don’t expire until the end of October, so she said she planned to talk to an attorney to see if there would be any consequences for attempting to renew them so early.
Daniela, 24, who came to the United States from Venezuela in 2002 and now lives in Burlington County, said the uncertainty over the fate of DACA has been a source of acute anxiety in recent weeks. Daniela, who co-founded a company that designs and supplies kits for online college physics and astronomy courses, asked that her last name not be used because she fears that she could become a target for deportation.
“How much more do I have to do to prove myself?” she said. “There’s a part of me that feels very unwelcome, now more than ever.”
Daniela’s work permit does do not expire until 2019, but she said she helped her younger sister, whose DACA protections expire in June, fill out her renewal application this week after several conversations about whether she should. They planned to send the application on Friday, she said.
“We were going back and forth, wondering whether she should even go down that path,” she said. “But she said: I’d rather be in the process of renewal.”
Trump made curbing illegal immigration and scaling back legal immigration a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, calling for a system that is merit-based as opposed to family-based. Since he took office a year ago, he has expanded immigration enforcement and has vowed to keep his campaign promise of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Thursday, after some Democrats who met with the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, said he told them the president hadn’t been “fully informed” when he promised to build the wall, Trump insisted on Twitter that his conception for building a wall had never changed.
“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” he wrote. “Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wasteland, or tough rivers or water.”
His administration also announced that it would end Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for citizens of Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Administration officials have said that the protections were meant to be only temporarily extended to citizens of countries that were struggling to deal with natural disasters or humanitarian crises, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. TPS holders from those countries will have to return to their homelands in 2019 if they are not able to adjust their status. If they decide to stay, they would join the ranks of the approximately 11 million immigrants living in the country without legal permission.
As the status of DACA has shifted, the office of Darren Maloney, director of legal services for Catholic Family and Community Services in Paterson, has been fielding calls. He said people are asking what is going on and whether they could or should renew. He said he has also reached out to others who he said would benefit from the recent court ruling.
“I’ve had a flurry of people,” he said. “We are trying to get some DACA renewals in, and I say to them there is no guarantee it will be approved or processed and they may lose their money. But people want something, and there is nothing else around. While this window of opportunity is open . we are in a very uncertain world.”
Gonzalez, the immigration attorney from Hackensack, said some DACA recipients have been able to adjust their status and become permanent legal residents through marriage or workplace sponsorship. He said he has one client whose renewal application was denied because she used a wrong form for the work permit. However, the latest court ruling will allow her to apply again, he said.
“Anyone that is eligible to apply for it, and if they are expiring they should just do it,” he said. “We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow with DACA, let alone with everybody else.”