The time is now for undocumented immigrants in New York City to enroll and reapply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
This was the underlying message of a press conference held by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Queens, 6th District) on July 8 outside Newtown H.S., Elmhurst.
Meng was joined by local immigration advocacy organizations, including the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Catholic Migration Services (CMS), and other elected officials to raise awareness about the DACA renewal process.
DACA is an initiative, implemented by President Barack Obama in June, 2012, that provides undocumented immigrants with temporary protection against deportation. The program allows qualified immigrants, under age 31 who were brought to the country illegally as children, to receive work permits and stay in the U.S. for a period of two years.
Although more than half a million immigrants have been granted DACA protection, many are unaware that they must reapply now in order to remain safe from deportation, the congresswoman said.
“It is critical for our communities to spread the word loud and clear that those with DACA status must renew their enrollment in the program as soon as possible,” Meng said.
“DACA had allowed more than half a million immigrants to come out of the shadows and contribute to our society. But those people, who are undocumented through no fault of their own, must understand the requirement to reapply, and I urge qualified immigrants who have not applied at all to do so at once.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced the process by which individuals may renew their request for DACA. DACA protections start to expire in September, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last month that it began to accept renewal requests for an additional two years.
While many undocumented youth have received DACA status, it is estimated that thousands of immigrants in New York City are eligible for the program but have not yet applied for it, the congresswoman noted.
Glimmer of Hope
“Catholic Migration Services is committed to assisting young people renew their deferred action under DACA,” said Father Patrick J. Keating, CEO of CMS. “The DACA renewal process is critical in the lives of these young people, for it will provide them the ability to continue their education and employment away from the shadow of fear. DACA renewal is a glimmer of hope in the lives of these young people who call America their home. Catholic Migration Services and all our partners in the community are here to help.”
In order to qualify for DACA, applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday and must have been under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012. They also must have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 and have never had a lawful immigration status on or before June 15, 2012.
Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Queens, 39th District) said that it’s important to remind undocumented youth that enrolled in DACA two years ago that they must reapply.
“This is such a critical and important program in the right step in the right direction for so many undocumented youth, especially here in New York,” said Assemblyman Moya, a 1990 graduate of St. John’s Prep, Astoria, and the author of the New York State version of the DREAM Act. He represents the most diverse district in the country, with 176 languages spoken and over 200 nationalities residing in Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights – most of them undocumented.
A Temporary Fix
Though DACA can protect the undocumented in the near future, Meng said that the program is really only temporary.
“It’s not a long-term solution but a desperately needed temporary fix for our broken immigration [system] that helps our youth right now,” she said. “If our youth allow their temporary status to expire, they will no longer be safe from deportation, and no one, especially their families, wants to see that happen.
“This is a critical time for undocumented youth. While we continue to push for immigration reform, we must encourage the youth to apply for renewal of their DACA status.”
Father Keating echoed the congresswoman, saying that the bigger goal for Congress should be bringing about “compassionate, common sense immigration reform now,” he said.
“I think we can’t take our sights off of immigration reform,” Father Keating said. “That’s going to be the larger solution. That’s going to help our nation as a whole and bring our nation together.
“It’s not just enough to say ‘We’ll do it next year, we’ll do it two years from now.’ We need to act now. We are all in this together.”
In the short-term however, renewals for DACA can be accepted as soon as next month.