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Sacramento-area ‘Dreamers’ scramble as deadline arrives for keeping immigration status

Undocumented students at CSUS worry about Trump ending Obama protections

California State University undocumented students attended a forum at Sacramento State on Jan. 23, 2017 to discuss how federal changes could affect them.
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California State University undocumented students attended a forum at Sacramento State on Jan. 23, 2017 to discuss how federal changes could affect them.

Sacramento “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the United States without documentation as children, scrambled this week to complete government applications as a final deadline loomed Thursday that threatened their tenuous immigration status.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the government would phase out its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly called DACA. But it gave those holding the two-year work permits a chance to renew for another two years if their status was set to expire between September 2017 and March 2018. Applications, including a $495 fee, are due Thursday.

About 154,000 Dreamers nationwide fell into that renewal category, sparking a rush to complete the forms. The Sacramento, Roseville, Arden Arcade area is home to about 5,900 of DACA recipients.

Many Dreamers attend local community colleges and universities. In recent weeks, schools including Sacramento State and UC Davis have hosted DACA informational sessions and application workshops and have offered renewal fee assistance.

With the help of her former elementary school teacher, Woodland Community College student Zoraida Loza renewed her DACA permit this spring. But Loza, 24, said she has been helping others reapply. She knows as many as 100 Dreamers “who are scrambling to make ends meet, getting their paperwork together.”

Local law offices also have been busy assisting Dreamers. “It’s been intense,” said Kishwer Vikaas, an immigration attorney with the McGeorge School of Law Immigration Legal Clinic, of the past few weeks.

Vikaas said she normally sees two or three clients a week, but recently, that number has more than quadrupled. She said professors and students from McGeorge have offered their time and expertise to help.

On Tuesday, with the deadline looming, three young immigrants came in looking for help on their applications, Vikaas said. One young woman had her package returned by the government because she forgot to include a blank page that is part of the application.

“They were nitpicking,” Vikaas said. “Her father told me she cried throughout the night. There is a lot to lose. There is a lot at stake.”

Vikaas said the clinic was able to get all three last-minute applications filed.

Local immigration lawyer Lisa Kobayashi said her firm proactively had gone through its client list and reached out to those eligible for renewal. She sent the last batch of envelopes — about 30 in all — over the past month by express mail Tuesday.

“We only had a few weeks to prepare, so it was very stressful for everyone,” Kobayashi said.

As of Sept. 7, the USCIS reported 56,700 renewals pending for Dreamers who fall within the six-month window. But 96,600 more DACA recipients with their status set to expire had not submitted a renewal as of that date.

Vikaas said that the $495 application fee has been a barrier for some of her clients, all of whom were low income. McGeorge raised $3,000 from the local community to help Dreamers pay, she said.

“We made sure the people who called us didn’t have the fee as a barrier,” she said.

Loza said the fee was problematic for some people she knew. “I do (know) people who are just taking their chances and letting it expire and seeing where the road takes them, and what the administration will do,” she said.

Woodland Community College Dreamers and others in Yolo County were able to apply for grants from the Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network, said chairman Ramon Urbano. The network has assisted 18 people with their DACA fees, Urbano said. “We asked people to give us their applications by Sept. 29 – it’s all I did last week.”

Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra said the city, and his office in particular, has been helping to coordinate local efforts. He has been working with Sacramento State and UC Davis on their DACA “Know Your Rights” sessions to ensure that students have access to legal advice. Many such sessions also have been held at churches, community centers and other neighborhood forums, he said.

Guerra said it has been a bigger challenge to reach community college students because the campuses don’t have as many formal resources for undocumented students. One of his big tasks has been to reassure local Dreamers, who are fearful of losing their status.

“Rightly so they are terrified,” Guerra said. “It’s an even more crushing feeling because they got to a point where they saw hope. They’ve had the ability to get educated, recruited by employers, hired, seeing a path to the American Dream and then being arbitrarily told we are going to take all that from you.”

Kaushik Ranchod, another local immigration attorney, said that while he has had calls about DACA, other types of immigration inquiries have dropped off – something he attributes to fear among immigrants. “It’s been a roller coaster,” he said. “I think people are kind of afraid so they are not doing anything.”

Kobayashi said there was still a slim chance of meeting the deadline even for those who haven’t started the application, though that window is closing fast. Applications can’t be walked into an office or digitally uploaded, she said. They must be mailed, or at this point, delivered by a same-day courier service.

All three United States Citizenship and Immigration Services facilities across the U.S. are accepting DACA deliveries until midnight local time Thursday, according to UCSIS spokeswoman Sharon Rummery.

Those living in California must mail or send by courier to USCIS, Attention DACA, 1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100, Phoenix, AZ, 85034, Rummery said. Residents of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgins Islands are eligible past the deadline until country conditions improve after the hurricanes, Rummery said.

Kobayashi is exploring other immigration options for clients who miss the deadline or don’t qualify for renewal. She said she has had employers with DACA employees reach out to her, and she is investigating whether some might qualify for other types of work visas. Ranchod said he has had more clients who are married to American citizens exploring that pathway to legal status.

As of Sept. 4, California had the largest number of Dreamers nationwide, nearly 30 percent of all DACA recipients, about 197,900 people, according to government data. There are currently about 690,000 active DACA recipients nationwide, and about 800,000 people have held the status at one point since the program began in 2012. The majority are between 16 and 30 years old and are single.

Natomas math teacher Diana Montelongo, an undocumented DACA resident in the Sacramento area, opens up about her history and concerns about the future.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini

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