For Dreamers Struggling to Afford DACA Renewals, Help Appears

Jorge Orozco attends a free consultation workshop for DACA recipients at Mission College in Santa Clara on Sept. 20, 2017. The event was one of dozens organized by Bay Area immigrant rights organizations ahead of the Oct. 5 deadline for DACA renewals.  (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED News)

As thousands of young undocumented immigrants rush to renew their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status before a deadline next Thursday, Bay Area immigrant advocates and others are raising funds and holding dozens of free workshops to help those eligible reapply.

The Trump administration is ending the DACA program, which provides protection from deportation and a work permit for two years. But those whose DACA status expires between now and March 5, 2018, have a short window in which they can renew.

As of last Friday, about 96,000 eligible DACA recipients had not yet applied for renewals, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"It's important for people to understand that those renewal applications must be in our hands by Oct. 5," said Sharon Rummery, a USCIS spokeswoman in San Francisco.

At a DACA renewal workshop held recently at Mission College in Santa Clara, Maria Solis sat down with a student to help him verify that his application was free of mistakes.

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"It's very important. Any dates that might be wrong, or if something is not verified, could have the file rejected," said Solis, a staff member with Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network, or SIREN, in San Jose. "Then they won't get their work permit."

Losing his ability to legally work for two more years would represent a disaster for Jorge Orozco. The San Jose resident said he needs his paycheck as a manager at a local movie theater to afford his college education. Orozco, 26, wants to open a graphic design business one day.

"I have a pretty good trajectory right now and I feel like if I don't get this renewed, it's just going to derail stuff," said Orozco, who arrived at age 9 to the U.S. from Mexico with his mom and two sisters.
But money is tight, and coming up with the $495 application fee in just a couple of weeks was a real obstacle.

"I was going to ask my landlord, 'Hey can I get two weeks to my next check?' because I can't really pay for rent and this," said Orozco, holding a manila envelope with his forms. "If I don't pay for this, then I can't pay any more rent. So I feel like she would understand."

Orozco’s community college, Mission College, helped him find financial aid to cover the fee. The state of California, the Mexican Consulate and the city of San Francisco have announced funds to cover DACA renewal application costs.

“We want to remove as many barriers as possible to help these brave young individuals prepare for the Oct. 5 deadline,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in a statement. “We asked them to step out of the shadows to pursue a better life in America, and we need to honor our commitment to their cause."

Only about 22 percent of the 690,000 individuals with DACA status as of this month are eligible for renewals. But fundraising efforts online and elsewhere began shortly after the Trump administration announced the program was being phased out.

Tara Robinson, head of development at the nonprofit Mission Asset Fund, inspects a stack of checks to cover DACA recipients' renewal fees on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED News)

Mission Asset Fund, a financial services nonprofit in San Francisco, raised $2.5 million in just one week to help "Dreamers" pay for their renewal application fees, said Tara Robinson, who heads development for the organization.

"There is a big financial need, especially for younger folks who are in college, have limited income and are scrambling to come up with nearly $500 to reapply," said Robinson, sitting at a table with a stack of hundreds of checks scheduled to be mailed out across the country.

Mission Asset Fund set up a DACA renewal scholarship website and has received about 4,000 applications. Robinson anticipated additional funds would be donated for the cause in the coming days. Their donors -- larger foundations but also regular people just opening up their wallets -- have a message for Dreamers, she said.

"They are standing with us to say, 'You know we believe in you. And despite what you're hearing, we want you here and you are a valued part of our society,' " Robinson said.

Ready California, a coalition of more than 100 faith-based and immigrant rights nonprofits, is also racing against the clock to offer legal assistance and financial aid information for DACA renewals every day until Oct. 3, throughout the state. Still, some eligible immigrants could miss out, especially in parts of the state with fewer resources, said Sarah Feldman, project director for Ready California.

"It's really been impressive, the extent to which different sources of support have emerged for fees," Feldman said. "But time is a big challenge. The fact that the renewal deadline is coming up so quickly has made it really challenging to be able to get the information out in a timely way."

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