Melissa Garcia’s Apple watch was buzzing with phone calls and text messages the day U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the federal government was putting an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program on Sept. 5.
But the recent Texas State University graduate from Monterrey, Mexico couldn’t answer her phone because she was working at a Title 1 San Antonio high school for her job at the San Antonio Education Partnership helping students navigate the college application process.
Throughout the day, Garcia, who has been a DACA recipient since 2012, had students—some of them DACA recipients—coming up to her.
“I can’t go to college anymore, right?” she recalled one student asking.
“I told him, ‘No, you can absolutely still go to college,’” she said. “But I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’”
Deadline to renew
A day before the registration renewal deadline for eligible DACA participants, hundreds of activists across the state have raised money to cover the $495 renewal fee.
The program offers a renewable two-year reprieve from deportation and eligibility for work permits and driver’s licenses. It applies to qualifying undocumented people living in the U.S. who came to the country when they were children.
A quarter of the nearly 800,000 DACA beneficiaries are eligible for renewal, according to America’s Voice Education Fund, an immigrant rights activist organization.
If their applications are successful their protection from deportation and work authorization would last for two years—even if the program is shut down or modified by next spring.
Scope, a Texas State student activist group working to protect immigrant rights, surpassed its goal of raising $3,000 for renewal fees at the end of September.
We are $41 away from reaching our goal! Please donate, every dollar helps. Then, please spread, spread, spread! https://t.co/078Cg9RoKV
— SCOPE at TXST (@SCOPETXST) September 28, 2017
Groups like the Equal Justice Center in Austin have a goal of raising $50,000 by Oct. 5.
Sen. Kirk Watson recently announced a $5,000 matching gift to achieve the final fundraising goal before the deadline.
“Students and young professionals who qualify for DACA shouldn’t be denied this important opportunity simply because they can’t afford the renewal fee,” he said in a news release. “The window is closing for these young people, and I hope others will help us to help them.”
During her four years at Texas State, Garcia said she worked 50 hours a week as a supervisor for a research company while also studying mass communications full-time.
As questions surrounding the federal government’s position on DACA arise and Congress’s six-month deadline to come up with something to replace it approaches, she thinks about her own DACA status, set to expire in August 2018.
She said she is not sure what she will do when the time comes if nothing replaces DACA.
“When you’re a dreamer, you’re waiting on the next anything,” she said.
Just over a month after Sessions announced the end of the DACA program, officials from both political parties as well as U.S. President Donald Trump have Central Texas immigrant recipients of the program—so-called “Dreamers”—wondering what’s next.
There are several bills pending in Congress that could potentially replace DACA, including the now 17-year-old DREAM Act—which, according to the National Immigration Law Center, would provide a direct road to U.S. citizenship for people who meet these criteria: They are either undocumented, have DACA status or temporary protected status, and they are a U.S. high school graduate who attends college, has entered the workforce or enlisted in a military program.
Senators Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, and James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, in September introduced the SUCCEED Act (Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our nation), which looks similar to DACA but with more rigorous restrictions.
The SUCCEED Act includes provisions that deter illegal immigration, prevent chain migration and make paying off tax liabilities a requirement for keeping legal status. It also requires a thorough criminal background check.
People must apply for Conditional Permanent Residence status and keep their status until they turn 18. Once they turn 18, they will need to apply for a five-year renewal and either maintain gainful employment for 48 out of 60 months, earn a postsecondary or vocational degree or serve in the military for at least three years.
If, after 10 years, they maintain their Conditional Permanent Residence status, they can apply for permanent residency.
Christina Tzintzun, who runs Jolt Texas, a nonprofit organization that works with young Latinos, said she would support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
She said she wants a “clean” Dream Act with no amendments.
“The current gains of DACA should be maintained,” she said.
Since the announcement of the program’s repeal, Tzintzun and her organization have helped raise funds to cover the $495 application renewal fee and have encouraged young Latino citizens to vote in upcoming elections.
DACA and SB 4
John Mckiernan-Gonzales said he used to ask students whether they voted in the most recent election but found even that made students uncomfortable and might raise the question of whether a student was legally allowed to vote.
When the Texas State professor of Mexican-American history, Latino studies and immigration history broaches the subjects of immigration restriction, migrants and deportation, he said he does not seek students’ opinions or inquire about individual situations.
“I worry that that might leave students vulnerable,” he said.
Several of the recipients he knows are worried about deportation.
“They feel betrayed, they feel scared and they don’t know who to trust,” he said. “This is a blow to people’s life plans.”
He said the conversation around DACA goes hand-in-hand with the topic of Senate Bill 4, the state sanctuary cities bill that on Sept. 25 was deemed partly in effect by a panel of three appellate court judges.
The law was supposed to go into effect throughout Texas more than a month ago, but legal challenges in the courts by several Texas cities, including Austin, temporarily halted the law that would require police officers to inquire about immigration status during every stop and honor any ICE detainer requests.
Last month, the appellate judges ruled the detainer provision—which requires jail officials to honor all detainers—can stand for now.
“The ‘comply with, honor, and fulfill’ requirement does not require detention to every retainer request,” the Fifth Circuit ruling states. “Rather [it]mandates that local agencies cooperate according to existing ICE detainer practice and law.”
A hearing on the state’s appeal of that ruling is scheduled for Nov. 6.
The city of San Marcos in August filed an amicus brief opposing the law, and in December 2016, Texas State President Denise Trauth said the university would not report undocumented immigrants to authorities after several fliers encouraging people to report such students appeared on campus.
Mckiernan-Gonzales called her statement “brave.”
“I do think that she’s committed to making sure every student at Texas State has due process,” he said.
Texas State released a statement Sept. 5 saying it would begin discussing how the DACA repeal “might impact individuals and the university community, maintaining our commitment to inclusion and diversity in a way that complies with all applicable federal and state laws”.
Garcia said she applied to Texas State because she was told the university was “more open” to having “Dreamers” and provided a lot of resources for DACA recipients, although she never used any of the university’s services for DACA recipients.
Effect on the economy
Tzintzun is also calling for local businesses to stand up on what she calls the “right side of history” when it comes to supporting the recipients.
“It’s a lot harder for people to imagine an economy and their businesses running without DACA recipients,” she said.
The Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization, estimates ending DACA would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national gross domestic product over the next decade. Ending DACA would remove an estimated 685,000 workers from the nation’s economy, according to the report. Texas would lose $6.3 billion annually from the GDP.
Texas has approximately 124,300 DACA recipients, 108,141 of which are working, according to the Center for American Progress.
San Marcos Mayor John Thomaides said he would stand with the US Conference of Mayors to help come up with a “humane” resolution to the DACA repeal.
“It really seems to be a serious issue to remove the ability for someone who may have been brought here as a very young child and send them somewhere that they’ve never been to,” he said, referring to the uncertainty of what happens after the applications expire.
“From a human decency standpoint, it’s my hope that the U.S. Congress and the president figure out a humane way to deal with the folks that are in this situation, but also to recognize that there’s no question that many of the people that are in this program have contributed greatly to this country,” he said.
Additional reporting by Emma Freer.