LYNN — A recent announcement by President Donald Trump that he was ending a five-year program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation in March has left communities like Lynn scrambling to help those left vulnerable.
The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was established by executive order from President Barack Obama, and has given nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation. Trump recently ordered an end to the program with a six-month delay, with plans to phase out DACA on March 5, 2018.
White House officials reportedly said some of the current immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers, will be able to renew their two-year period of legal status until Oct. 5.
Virginia Leigh, a social worker with Lynn Community Health Center, said a five-hour DACA renewal application program was held at Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development (LHAND) on Saturday. She said the only people who can apply for DACA renewal at this time are those whose renewal is up in the next six months.
“This moment in time is for people who thought DACA was an answer to a long, long life of stressful not knowing — to be pushed back into that limbo again of not knowing what’s going to happen to their status, it’s draining and overwhelming,” Leigh said.
The legal clinic, which included volunteer services from eight attorneys, about seven social workers and two priests, was a joint effort on the part of LHAND, and a network of upwards of 20 organizations in the Lynn area, known as the Lynn rapid response network, Leigh said. The Northeast Justice Center was also a sponsor, and provided legal services.
Leigh said about six dreamers — residents of Lynn, Revere and Beverly — took advantage of the services. She estimated that of the 800,000 people in the DACA program, somewhere around 150,000 are up for renewal in the next six months across the country.
If Congress fails to find a legislative fix in the next six months, or an alternative way to protect young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, dreamers could face deportation to countries they may hardly know or remember and lose their work permits beginning in March.
Leigh said lots of communities are scrambling to get their DACA renewal applications in after the president’s announcement earlier this month, and similar clinics have had to spring up across the state to help.
The clinic was open to the public, but Leigh said there was great care taken in protecting the participants’ privacy by not collecting any identifiable information from attendees, who have work permits and are going to school.
“As the supporters of the immigrant community, the rapid response network and other constituent organizations were very aware and wanting to help protect immigrants and their anonymity at this time,” Leigh said. “I think there’s a fear, at least on our part, as the people trying to provide some of the supports for these people, we don’t want to put them in the limelight, if they don’t want to be in the limelight.”
Leigh said attorneys provided free legal services in assisting with the renewal. She said some people had received quotes from lawyers that similar services that were provided at the clinic would cost $700, on top of the $495 application fee for their DACA renewal. She said that attorney fee is staggering and shows that in general, a lot of places and people like to take advantage of people in desperate situations. If there weren’t similar clinics, it would be challenging for dreamers to apply, based on their ability to pay.
Carly McClain, executive counsel for LHAND, said she was on hand to provide legal assistance and support.
McClain said the clinic didn’t cover the $495 DACA renewal application fee, but dreamers received help with applying for a new $1 million scholarship fund, announced by Mission Asset Fund to help dreamers renew DACA by Oct. 5. Two thousand dreamers will be provided with scholarships of $495 to renew.
She said others eligible for renewal will be provided free legal services if they walk into the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, and the Mexican Consulate in Boston is paying the $495 application fee for Mexican immigrants.
For those not eligible for renewal in the next six months, McClain said their legal options are limited. She said if their only option when applying for legal status was DACA, those people don’t have any other options — they have to wait until the government acts.
McClain said some people have other immigration options available, such as special immigrant juvenile status, which is for those 21 and under who were found by family or probate court to be abused, abandoned or neglected.
She said in some cases, someone who has DACA may have a parent who has obtained a status or green card, and they may be able to get a green card through that parent.
McClain said her suggestion to anyone who might not be able to do a DACA renewal is to go to a legal clinic and speak with an attorney to explore if there are other options available.
McClain said there’s a deep sense of fear and betrayal around the dreamers following the announcement to end DACA, and that some of those feelings were shared at the clinic. She said the program allowed young people who had been brought here through no choice of their own the ability to participate in American life, including “the ability to come from behind the shadows and get a job and contribute to the household income.”
McClain said the program also gave them the chance to “become more of a mainstream American kid without having that monkey on their back that their life could become uprooted at any moment.” Through DACA, she said the government has all of their information, and now with the president deciding to rescind the program, they’re in more jeopardy than before they provided their information.
“The dreamers are young people,” McClain said. “They just want to be regular old kids and they can’t be. There’s something deeply unjust about that … This is their home. To be told you don’t matter, it’s a terrible thing.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report