'Dreamers' scramble to renew DACA status before Oct. 5 deadline

Vianey Romero is one of the lucky ones.

When President Trump recently announced plans to phase out over the next six months a federal program that protects some immigrants from deportation, there was an exception made for those like Romero whose legal status was set to expire on or before March 5.

Romero, 35, is a beneficiary of former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which shielded from deportation nearly 800,000 immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. The program provides recipients with renewable two-year work permits.

Under Trump’s plan, Romero and others can renew their enrollment in DACA as long as they apply before Oct. 5. There are about 150,000 immigrants eligible to reapply for the program.

Immigrant advocates are scrambling to set up renewal workshops for the so-called Dreamers. On Saturday, Loyola Law School’s Immigrant Justice Clinic sponsored one of these events.

Lawyers and volunteers processed about 100 applications, including Romero’s. Her Social Security number, issued under DACA, expires March 3. If accepted, her work permit and Social Security number will be valid through 2020.

Romero was 15 and had just finished the school year in Puebla, Mexico, when her parents, who were already living in the U.S. with her three siblings, sent for her. She crossed the border with a coyote, a smuggler, walking along the border for a week with little food and water.

The East Los Angeles resident has been enrolled in DACA for a year and a half, saying she hesitated to apply after the program began in 2012 because she was afraid. Her husband, who works as a tree trimmer, is also in the country illegally. Their four children, ages 12 to 1, are U.S. citizens.

For years, Romero focused on her kids, choosing to be a stay-at-home mom while they are young. She finally applied for DACA knowing that she’d eventually be able to work legally and feel more at ease.

The legal status also allowed her to get a credit card and finance the family’s new Kia Sedona. They’ve been hoping to buy a house.

Romero said her son cried when Trump announced the end of DACA, though the president has recently indicated he might be willing to be flexible on the program. She said she has always been frank with her children about her immigration status, telling them she wasn’t born here like they were and that it’s possible for her to be deported.

“I have faith that they’re going to do something better for us,” she said. “They know we’ve done nothing wrong.”

Romero considers herself fortunate. Her younger brother, who is also a DACA beneficiary, doesn’t qualify for the last-minute renewal.

Like Romero, the DACA participants at Loyola overwhelmingly were from Mexico. Most had completed some college, and the vast majority said they spoke English as their primary language.

Nina Gomez, 22, registered people as they walked in. She graduated this year from Loyola Marymount and works as a legal assistant at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles.

Her parents brought her to the U.S. as an infant on tourist visas that they overstayed. Her mother was an accountant and her father an architect, but Mexico’s recession left them desperate. Now her mom cleans houses and her dad restores artwork.

Gomez didn’t qualify for the DACA renewal. Her work permit will expire at the beginning of 2019, throwing a wrench into her plans to apply to law school. With DACA, she qualifies for private loans. Without it, she worries about financing her graduate degree.

“There’s so much we can’t control,” she said, “but it’s important to do what we can.”

She said that includes fighting against the politically charged rhetoric of good and bad immigrants that pins Dreamers against their parents.

“Yes, I didn’t ask as a 6-month-old to come here, but I don’t want my parents to be seen as the bad guys,” she said. “And by no means would I want their sacrifices to be diminished.”

Representatives from the Consulate of Mexico in Los Angeles were on hand Saturday to help Mexican nationals in need of assistance pay the $495 application fee. California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders announced a plan last week to allocate $30 million in financial aid and legal services to help Dreamers. The San Francisco-based Mission Asset Fund announced it will provide $1 million in scholarships for DACA renewals.

Those funds will help people like Christian Perez, who arrived at Loyola about $250 short of his application fee. The 30-year-old Long Beach resident works in a kitchen and has been enrolled in DACA only since December 2015 because he couldn’t come up with the money to apply before.

Perez and his parents came to the U.S. illegally from Michoacan, Mexico, when he was 3. DACA enabled him to get a better paying job and to afford a 2017 Honda Accord after driving a “beater” for years.

On Saturday, he brought an overstuffed manila envelope with all his legal documents and saved mail from every month for the past two years as proof that he has remained in the country. His 5-year-old daughter clung to his side as he reviewed the application with a lawyer.

Despite his worry about the fluctuating status of DACA over the past two weeks, Perez said there’s not much he can do but roll with the changes.

“It’s scary but all I do is pray and hope it comes out as good news,” he said.

andrea.castillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @andreamcastillo

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