Arkansans assisted dozens of aliens whose legal protections are scheduled to end within months, pooling thousands of dollars in less than 30 days to help them apply for more time as a 5-year-old federal program winds down.
President Donald Trump's administration announced Sept. 5 that it would dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants deportation reprieves, work permits and other documents to qualifying people who arrived in the U.S. as children and are now considered illegals.
Today is the last day that people whose deferred statuses end on or before March 5 can apply for two-year renewals through the program, frequently called DACA. No one whose status expires after that date is eligible for a renewal. So, some people will begin losing their deferrals next year unless there is a legislative measure to stop it.
How many of the 4,700 deferred-status people living in Arkansas qualify for extensions is unknown. So, attorneys and advocacy groups over the past month set up in restaurants and churches and on university campuses to try to identify people eligible for such extensions and to raise money to help cover the nearly $500 cost to file an application.
"You were essentially talking about three working weeks," Mireya Reith, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Arkansas United Community Coalition, said of the time between the Sept. 5 decision and today's deadline.
The Springdale-based coalition -- helped by Catholic Charities of Arkansas, Ozark Indivisible and other groups -- raised $24,000 after the Sept. 5 announcement, enough to cover the full cost, including legal fees and postage, for 39 Arkansas applications, Reith said.
Daniela Robles, a part-time restaurant cashier who lives in Springdale, was one of those 39 people. She and two siblings, both with deferred statuses, live with their mother and apply their wages to the household's utility and grocery bills.
"I didn't have the money to pay for the whole DACA [renewal]," said Robles, whose current deferred status will expire in February.
She learned of the Trump administration's decision on the news and reached out to a community organizer after learning that Arkansas United was offering financial aid, she said.
Community meetings held to tell people about the program change and to gauge their eligibility for deferrals reached nearly 600 people, Reith said.
The Mexican Consulate in Little Rock provided financial aid and legal services to 12 Arkansans who applied for status renewals, said Sarah Medrano Gonzalez, the consulate's coordinator of political and economic affairs.
Attorneys across the state said they filed paperwork for many others who didn't receive the financial aid, allowing those people to make deferred payments or lowering the monthly installment rates on those payments.
Murad Elsaidi, a Little Rock immigration attorney, said Wednesday that he was finishing up renewal applications, which the government must receive by today. Elsaidi has helped between 40 and 50 clients file for deferred-status renewals, although not all of them in the current wave, he said.
"I always advise [deferred-status clients] to seek any other alternative ways to become legal," Elsaidi said. "They need to explore those options and take advantage of them."
Nationally, more than 112,000 people had applied for renewals as of Wednesday, which is about 73 percent of the 154,200 people eligible for them, said Sharon Scheidhauer, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes the applications.
It wasn't immediately clear how many people in Arkansas are eligible during this round of extensions or how many applied for renewals, Scheidhauer said.
As of Sept. 4, about 690,000 people nationally and 4,700 in Arkansas had deferred statuses, according to recent report released by the agency.
About 22 percent of deferred-status people nationwide are eligible for renewals. Roughly 1,050 are eligible in Arkansas.
Aside from shielding recipients from deportation and granting work authorization, the program provides access to state-issued driver's licenses and has allowed participants to go to college, open businesses and buy homes.
Participants must have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthdays, meet education requirements, pass criminal-background checks and have lived continuously in the U.S. since June 2007. Deferred status does not include a pathway to citizenship. Recipients pay taxes and aren't eligible for federal aid, such as grants to cover college tuition.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Sept. 5 announced that the Trump administration would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that was instituted under former President Barack Obama in 2012. Officials in some states had threatened to file a lawsuit over the directive, saying that it violated the U.S. Constitution. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was among those from 10 states who favored the potential litigation.
After the Sept. 5 announcement, Trump urged on Twitter that Congress pass legislation to resolve the situation.
On Tuesday, senators discussed the issue for the first time since Sessions' announcement. Republicans have pushed for tougher border security measures to be paired with a legislative replacement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. A national coalition of advocates is calling for "clean," single-issue legislation that would include a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens who were brought to the U.S. as children, Reith said.
Robles was 6 months old when her aunt, living in the U.S. legally, drove her across the Mexican border, showing checkpoint guards paperwork for Robles' cousin. Meanwhile, Robles' mother and her siblings sneaked across the border to escape their lives of poverty.
Robles' extended family members had told her mother to migrate and that they would help the family attain legal status.
"It never happened," Robles said. "Thanks to DACA, I actually got this help. I'm able to help her."
Robles, a mother of two, wants to work as a personal trainer and plans to enroll in college next year, she said.
A Section on 10/05/2017
Print Headline: DACA's renewals deadline is today; Group in state offers fees help