I still remember the long lines at Navy Pier in Chicago on August 15, 2012. It was the first day that certain undocumented youth could apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which provides temporary relief from deportation for two years and work authorization. Legal service providers from around Illinois were providing legal consultations and workshops at Navy Pier on the day the program launched.
I arrived to Navy Pier at 5:00 p.m. the day before and already two families from Elgin were at the front of the line eager to start the process. I returned at 11:00 p.m. that night and dozens of undocumented youth and their families were lined up outside the gate. By 5:00 a.m. on August 15th, hundreds of young immigrants were waiting for the opportunity of a lifetime: protection from deportation and the opportunity to legally work in the United States. Estimates show that more than 11,000 people came to Navy Pier that day seeking assistance in applying for DACA.
I, like many of the estimated 1.8 million potential DACA beneficiaries, was excited. It was the day that I was waiting for since my college graduation in 2011. I would finally be able to legally work in the United States and no longer be afraid of being deported.
According to the latest data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 553,197 youth have been approved for deferred action and work authorization since August 15, 2012.
Surveys among “DACAmented” youth show the difference that a social security number, a work permit, and peace of mind can have on a person’s life. Many of us now have a state ID, driver’s license, bank account, credit card, and new jobs with better opportunities. Most importantly, we see the need for permanent solutions for us and our families.
Today, USCIS officially finalized the process for people to renew their DACA. DACA provides protection for only two years, so for those of us who applied in 2012, the expiration date is approaching. Being able to renew DACA is hugely important for us.
DACA is not the end to the immigration debate in this country, but it is a step in the right direction. If DACA recipients can legally work in the United States and drive without fear of getting deported, then the same should go for mothers, fathers, and other undocumented people. We need permanent relief to stop senseless deportations and to give the estimated 11 million undocumented people in this country an opportunity to pursue their American Dream without fear.
If you’re still debating applying (or reapplying) for DACA, here are 5 reasons you should take advantage of DACA now:
- Protection. Deferred Action means that you are not an enforcement priority for ICE and will be protected from deportation. When an estimated 1,100 people are deported every day, we need to stay and fight the deportations of our friends and families.
- Employment. Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or work permit allows you to work legally in the United States. DACAmented individuals can work in their chosen field – education, medicine, and even law in some states. Now is your chance to explore different careers, save money to help your family, and save to continue studying. If you already have DACA, you must apply to renew your DACA 120 to 150 days before your current work permit expires to avoid gaps and possibly losing your job.
- Legal Screening. The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) hosts monthly DACA clinics where a pro bono attorney represents you at no cost. As a part of the process, NIJC will not only review your eligibility for DACA, but also for other more permanent forms of relief. An estimated 15% of DACA clinic attendees have been found eligible for permanent relief. If you are applying for the first time or reapplying, attend a free DACA clinic to receive legal assistance.
- Education. Even though we do not qualify for government aid, such as FAFSA, many scholarships are finally open to DACAmented students. Professional schools now admit DACAmented students and give them the opportunity to be research or teaching assistants to help pay for tuition.
- Keep fighting! Continue working towards better opportunities for our families with community groups. This is not the end of our fight to end the injustices millions of undocumented immigrants face every day and we need everyone to keep working towards another victory.
If you or potential DACAmented youth are debating on whether to (re)apply for DACA, remember that there is a community of undocumented people, advocates, and legal services providers who will stand and fight with you.
For more information on DACA, check out NIJC’s DREAMer Resource Hub.
Cindy Agustin is NIJC’s outreach coordinator and works with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project.