Immigrants line up to renew work permits ahead of DACA expiration
The line stretches down the block before the sun rises in Los Angeles for immigrants seeking help to renew their work permits under a 5-year-old program that has shielded them from deportation but is now nearing its end.
Ivan Vizueta, a 25-year-old from Long Beach, brought a folding chair and music to pass the time while waiting to renew the papers that enable him to work for a plumbing company and earn nearly twice the wages he once did loading and unloading cargo containers. The lines have been a regular occurrence in recent days, with some people camping out as early as 3 a.m.
“I have to do this so I have another two years of safety,” said Vizueta, who was brought to the country nearly two decades ago from Mexico and hopes to run his own plumbing business someday.
For immigrants like Vizueta, it’s a race against the clock as they rush to renew their permits ahead of a looming Oct. 5 deadline set by the Trump administration. After that date, no one else can renew their protected status under a program that has let nearly 800,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children work even though they lack legal papers.
The work permits have been a lifeline for many young immigrants who have been educated in American schools and know no other home than the United States. The program created by President Obama in 2012 also protected these immigrants, many of them in their 20s, from being deported to countries they hardly remember. Critics call it an illegal amnesty program that is taking jobs from U.S. citizens.
When President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program this month, he gave Congress six months to draft a more lasting fix. Democratic leaders and Trump said they have reached a deal to protect the immigrants, but Congress has since been focused on repealing Obama’s healthcare law and overhauling the tax code. Democratic congressional leaders say they are waiting on the White House to craft a legislative proposal.
Meanwhile, immigrant advocates around the country have been urging the Trump administration to extend the Oct. 5 deadline and holding legal clinics and donating money to help immigrants cover the $500 renewal fee.
Jesus Perez of Phoenix says he’s not sure he would have been able to come up with the cash in time to renew were it not for an advocacy group that is among several giving financial aid and helping people fill out their paperwork in time. The 30-year-old father of three, with another child on the way, was just approved to buy a home but can’t complete the purchase until his renewal comes through.
“You’re in limbo,” said Perez, who works at a car wash and hopes to open his own business soon.
In Las Vegas, fewer than 30 people have asked for a service provided by the Immigration Clinic at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, causing alarm among organizers who are fearful that immigrants are staying in the shadows or waiting too long to begin the renewal process. The government must receive the paperwork by Oct. 5, meaning it needs to be sent in most cases by this weekend.
“If you are not at the post office with an express mail envelope in your hand on the morning of Oct. 2, you are too late,” said Michael Kagan, director of the Las Vegas clinic.
Only immigrants whose permits are expiring before March 5, 2018, are eligible to apply for renewals. Those whose permits expire starting on March 6 will not be able to renew, under Trump’s order. The government estimates there are about 154,000 recipients whose permits expire between Sept. 5, 2017, when the Trump administration announced the end of the program, and March 5.
At the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, advocates have helped about 40 immigrants a day renew their permits for free. Immigrants began lining up outside the advocacy group’s Westlake headquarters before dawn to be sure they could get assistance due to the high demand, said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the organization.
Maria Moreno, 23, showed up at 3 a.m. at the group’s offices on a recent morning to renew under the program, which has made it easier for her to work as a cashier and attend college to pursue her goal of becoming a special education teacher. She said her parents brought her to this country from Mexico when she was 10 months old.
“I’ve been here all my life,” said Moreno. “I’ve never been back there, and I’m hoping not to go.”
Oscar Gaytan, a 22-year-old history and Chicano Studies student at UCLA, was also among those waiting in line. He said his permit under the program is valid until the end of next year but was stolen, forcing him to refile paperwork.
Gaytan said he hopes to go on to become a professor or immigration lawyer after graduation but knows he’ll need a work permit to do so.
“When Trump rescinded DACA, I was pretty upset,” said Gaytan, who said he was brought here from Mexico when he was 4. “But I feel like everything happens for a reason — so hopefully Congress acts.”
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