(CN) – Immigrants protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are safe for now thanks to injunctions that blocked the Trump administration from ending the program, but Texas has its sights set on litigation that could jeopardize their status.
Without a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in San Francisco, or a nearly identical follow-up injunction imposed by a federal judge in Brooklyn, DACA recipients whose benefits expired after Monday would have been unable to reapply for the program. Many of the estimated 700,000 immigrants enrolled, known as “Dreamers,” are now scrambling to get their renewal applications ready.
Karla Perez, 25, is a University of Houston law student on track to graduate in May. She came to the United States at age 2 with her parents from Mexico City.
She said she would not have been able to file a renewal application without the injunction because her DACA status expired after Monday. She expects to start the renewal process in late March.
Dreamers pay U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services a $500 application fee and must be interviewed by the agency, which fingerprints and photographs them, before a decision on their cases can be made.
If approved, DACA grants them protection from deportation and allows them to get federal work permits for renewable two-year periods.
“I myself have been a DACA beneficiary since 2012. And that changed my life in terms of more certainty in my future, stability, being able to apply for a work permit and, with that, being able to have amazing internships,” Perez said in a phone interview.
She said she has helped dozens of immigrants apply for the program at legal-aid clinics and workshops in Houston, so she disagrees with comments White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made in early February that the estimated 1.3 million immigrants eligible for DACA who did not sign up for it “were too afraid to sign up” or “too lazy to get off their asses.”
To qualify, immigrants had to have entered the United States before age 16 and to provide proof that they had continuously resided in the country since June 15, 2007.
President Donald Trump’s decision to phase out the program starting on Sept. 5, 2017, shuts out anyone who qualified for DACA, but had not yet filed their initial application by that date.
Perez said she had no trouble proving her long-term residency in the U.S.
“It wasn’t so much a challenge for me because my mom has kept everything that I’ve brought home from school since pre-kindergarten. So she has all of my report cards, pictures, medical records and vaccinations,” Perez said.
But the program’s seemingly arbitrary deadlines have prevented many others from qualifying, Perez said.
She said she knows an immigrant who entered the United States shortly before the 2007 cutoff date. His caretaker took some time to figure out how to enroll him in school, so he did not enroll until July 2007, and had no documentation needed to qualify.
The application fee is also an obstacle, Perez said.
“I have a friend who for them that was the case. They did not have money. So they would have had the money in like a few more weeks,” she said. “So there are a lot of people like that, a large amount of people who have fallen through that crack.”
Texas Southern University law professor Maurice Hew runs a legal clinic at the school where he does pro bono legal work for immigrants.
He said he has not helped anyone apply for DACA because he does not believe the executive order that former President Barack Obama signed in 2012 creating the program will stand up in court.
Hew said Dreamers who file paperwork with the government are making their parents targets for deportation.
The professor said that after Obama established DACA, several 16-year-olds came into his office looking to enroll.
“And you know what they’re asking me for? They’re asking me for a driver’s license. ‘Oh I heard that if I can get DACA I can get a driver’s license.’ Now in order to get DACA they need to prove that they are physically present here. And you know what they’re using to prove they are physically present? Their parents’ lease agreements,” Hew said.
Hew said immigration attorneys are selling Dreamers “DACA snake oil,” as DACA creates perpetual second-class citizen with no end in sight because Dreamers cannot vote or get federal health insurance.
Dreamers should be pushing for Congress to revisit an amnesty bill President George W. Bush signed in December 2000, Hew said.
The Legal Immigration Family Equity Act, or LIFE Act, allowed illegal immigrants who had proof they had been in the country on Dec. 21, 2000, to become lawful permanent residents if they filed their residency applications before April 30, 2001, regardless if they had entered the country without authorization.
President Ronald Reagan signed a similar bill in 1986 that gave an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants an avenue to become legal residents and, eventually, citizens.
Hew said Bush had plans to expand the amnesty window in the LIFE Act, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks immigrants became “the scapegoat for all the nation’s problems” and reforms no longer had traction in Congress.
Hew said he does not follow the news about Congress’ efforts to pass a permanent solution for Dreamers because he does not want to confuse himself about the current laws.
“I’m in the foxhole every day. What I mean by that is if a client comes in and sits in the chair and says, ‘OK. I’m getting deported, what can I do now’ I don’t have the luxury of telling the judge, ‘Can you continue for three years until they change the law?’ Based on the law today what can I do?” Hew said.
Perez, the University of Houston law student, said she disagrees with Hew’s opinion that DACA is not in her best interest. She said the filing fee and sending your information to the government are certainly challenges for DACA applicants.
“But I think for many of us … having that protection from deportation and being able to apply for a work permit really outweighs those challenges,” she said.
Trump caved to threats from Texas and nine other states that threatened to sue if he did not rescind DACA by Sept. 5, 2017, after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he did not believe he could defend the program in court.
The president, who has voiced support for Dreamers, set a drop-dead date for the program for March 5, with the goal of forcing Congress to quickly pass legislation to protect Dreamers.
But U.S. District Judge William Alsup blocked the administration from rescinding the program with a preliminary injunction issued Jan. 9.
Alsup found the administration’s decision to end the program was “arbitrary and capricious” because it was based on the “flawed legal premise” that DACA is illegal.
But Alsup’s injunction, which came in response to a challenge led by University of California regents, also relieved Congress of pressure to find a permanent fix.
The Trump administration petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to bypass the Ninth Circuit and take up its appeal of Alsup’s injunction, but the high court declined to do so on Feb. 26.
Dallas immigration attorney Paul Zoltan said he has filed DACA renewal applications for three or four Dreamers who would been shut out from reapplying without Alsup’s injunction.
Zoltan said in an interview he does not think there is any alternate way he could try to protect Dreamers if DACA is ultimately rescinded.
“I think when DACA expires the gig’s up,” he said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has once again laid down the gauntlet for DACA.
In an amicus brief supporting the Trump administration’s efforts to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Paxton said Texas might sue to try shut down DACA if the litigation before Judge Alsup goes into early June.
“Texas will be forced to consider bringing that challenge by June 15, 2018, in order to avoid issues about possible application of the six-year statute of limitations,” Texas said in its brief, which was joined by 12 other states, referencing DACA’s June 15, 2012 start date.
Zoltan said he believes the Trump administration is well within its rights to rescind DACA, and characterized Alsup’s injunction and a similar injunction put in place by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in the Eastern District of New York as “judicial activism.”
Both Alsup and Garaufis were nominated to the federal bench by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
“When I read those district court decisions, I thought, ‘This is clever.’ But I did not find myself agreeing with either of the judges,” Zoltan said. “I think that DACA is perfectly legal and yet I don’t think that the executive’s citing a legally questionable foundation for terminating the program is cause to enjoin the executive from terminating the program.”