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Deportation fears keep young LI immigrants from seeking help

Estrella Cedillo, left, and Arlette Herrera, both Hofstra

Estrella Cedillo, left, and Arlette Herrera, both Hofstra Law students, coordinated a clinic to help immigrants renew their DACA permits at the Salvadoran consulate in Brentwood Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Thirty Hofstra University law students volunteered at the Salvadoran consulate in Brentwood on Saturday to help young immigrants apply for renewal of their temporary protection from deportation before Thursday’s deadline, as the Trump administration begins to wind down the DACA program.

But the students had little to do. Only one man with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals authorization had applied for renewal during the six-hour legal clinic.

The reason for the paltry turnout, according to coordinators of Saturday’s event: Fear.

“People say, ‘If I reapply for DACA, I’m more of a priority’ ” for deportation, said Arlette Herrera, 26, a Hofstra law student who helped coordinate Saturday’s clinic and four previous ones that also had few applicants.

Deportation fears among immigrants spiked after the election of Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise of mass deportation, said Lauris Wren, a law professor at Hofstra who helped oversee the DACA clinics. Many DACA recipients have seen or heard of deportations in their communities, she said.

The one man who applied for DACA renewal on Saturday declined to be interviewed or identified.

“He said there’s a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment right now, and he didn’t want to do anything to draw attention to himself,” Wren said.

President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012 to offer temporary protection from deportation for many immigrants living illegally in the United States who arrived in the country as children. Nearly 800,000 people have been granted DACA status since then.

Trump began a phaseout of DACA on Sept. 5 but said he hoped Congress would protect DACA recipients with legislation before the program was scheduled to end March 5. But any DACA proposal would face strong opposition from many congressional Republicans.

Estrella Cedillo, a Hofstra law student and a coordinator of the DACA clinics, said she understood the widespread fear among DACA recipients, “but we say, ‘If you reapply and are accepted, you’re protected for two more years.’ ”

The federal government already has extensive information on anyone who was granted DACA status, because a background check was required.

Confusion is common about who is eligible for a renewal, Cedillo said. Nearly half of DACA recipients arriving at the five Hofstra law clinics found out they were ineligible because their permits expire outside the Sept. 5 to March 5 renewal window. Others have heard Congress will protect them, not realizing the political hurdles in passing DACA legislation. Some may believe they have until Thursday to apply, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must receive the application by then, so Hofstra volunteers are advising overnight delivery.

The low turnout in Brentwood mirrors what is occurring nationally. As of Friday, USCIS had received 39,400 renewal applications — even though the government estimates that about 154,000 DACA recipients’ permits expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, according to The Associated Press.

Cedillo and Herrera are U.S.-born daughters of Latin American immigrants, but they both have many friends who are DACA recipients.

Herrera saw how much difference DACA has made in the large immigrant community in her hometown of Passaic, New Jersey. When she graduated from Passaic High School in 2009, few of her friends who are in the country illegally went to college and many were only able to get low-paying, dead-end jobs. The employment authorization that comes with DACA gave many of them hope of pursuing a career, and the ability to obtain jobs related to that career, she said.

“I’ve seen them go to college and finally be able to visit their families” abroad, Herrera said.

Now, the uncertainty about their future in the United States — and the fear of deportation to a country many barely know — has returned. Anyone whose permits expired before Sept. 5 or will expire after March 5 is not allowed to renew, and the expiration of their DACA status means their legal protection from deportation expires as well.

Cedillo thinks of immigrant friends from her hometown of San Diego who became teachers, lawyers and medical-school students because of DACA.

“If it expires for them, they’ll no longer be able to fulfill their dreams,” she said. “But they’re productive members of society, no matter what their documents say.”

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