Karla Lopez, 25, prepares her DACA renewal application with help from volunteer Michael Nguyen at a legal clinic in San Jose on Feb. 7, 2018. A federal judge in January temporarily blocked the Trump administration's moves to phase out the program. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)
Update, March 5, 4:30 p.m: U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services reported last week that 11,360 DACA recipients nationwide applied in January to renew their two-year protection from deportation and work authorization. The agency resumed accepting renewal requests after a federal judge in San Francisco halted the Trump administration’s phase out of the program. A USCIS spokesperson confirmed some of those applicants were granted DACA renewals, but did not specify how many.
As of January 31, the agency was still handling an additional 18,200 DACA applications it received before a Trump administration deadline of October 5, 2017. The total number of pending applications was 29,606.
Even though Congress has failed to act so far on immigration legislation, President Trump's administration continues to handle a rush of applications to renew a permit that allows nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants to legally work and be protected from deportation.
Trump issued a March 5 deadline to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. But observers expect the program to continue well beyond that date, as the issue is tied up in the courts.
DACA Renewals Continue as Congress, Courts Tussle Over Deadlines, Policy
Last week, a federal judge in New York joined the January ruling of a San Francisco-based judge who temporarily halted the Trump administration's phase-out of DACA while lawsuits are pending. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, in the Northern District of California, ordered U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to resume accepting applications to renew the permits of current DACA recipients.
That opened a window of opportunity for Jackie Narvaez, 28, whose DACA status expires this summer. The math and science middle school teacher in East Oakland worries about losing her job and potential deportation unless protections are extended. She sent her renewal application by certified mail last month.
"You have to make sure it's being tracked. Make sure it's safe," said Narvaez, who grew up in Los Angeles. "Then it was just like, OK, let's hope for the best."
Immigration officials declined to report how many applications they have received and approved since the agency announced it was complying with the federal court's Jan. 13 order.
Mission Asset Fund, based in San Francisco, provided more than 2,600 scholarships nationwide since Jan. 13 to cover the fee for DACA renewals and has run out of funds for that purpose, according to Kelsea McDonough, a spokeswoman for the organization.
Nursing student Karla Lopez attended a legal clinic at the Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network, or SIREN, in San Jose to have her application reviewed by an attorney before sending it in. Lopez was willing to pay out of pocket the nearly $500 application fee, even though her DACA permit doesn't expire until November.
"I'd rather be safe than sorry. Do it before anything changes," said Lopez, 25, adding that it has been very stressful to watch the immigration debate in Washington, D.C. "It's been honestly scary. Like, I thought this was going to be my last year here."
For most DACA recipients, there is no added risk in applying now since the federal government already has their personal information, said attorney Shouan Riahi with SIREN.
"This window might close and the kids might lose that money," said Riahi, referring to the application fee. "At the same time, it might not. And they might get two extra years of work authorization and reprieve from deportation. And I think the $500 is likely worth it."
He added that SIREN's legal clinics have been flooded by a "huge demand" from DACA recipients ready to reapply. The organization also offers scholarships to cover the fee.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce in the coming days whether it will take up a review of Judge Alsup's decision. The Department of Justice took the rare step of simultaneously petitioning the high court to intervene, while appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as well.
Either way, a ruling could take months, said Jeffrey Davidson, a lead attorney suing the Trump administration on behalf of the University of California to reinstate DACA.
"The administration cannot rescind DACA and cannot remove people who have current DACA status" as long as Judge Alsup's order is in place, Davidson said.
Federal immigration authorities are expected to report to the district court in San Francisco the progress they've made in renewing DACA applications.
Oakland teacher Jackie Narvaez said she has already received a government notice in the mail that her request is being processed.
"So happy, I screen-shot it," Narvaez said. "I sent it to my boyfriend, to my mom. I said, 'Look, I already got my receipt!' "
She will be happier still, she said, once she actually holds her renewed DACA permit, bringing her more certainty that she will be able to teach two more years.