Time is running out for DACA recipients hoping to stay in the U.S. legally

Two women at a desk facing the camera look over paperwork, a man, on the other side of the desk, his back to the camera

Immigration attorney Alicia Anguiano (left) and Villanova law student Sarah Peck help a client fill out a renewal application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) during a free clinic at La Comunidad Hispana in Kennett Square. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Time is running out for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA recipients hoping to stay in the U.S. legally — at least for another two years.

The Trump administration gave exactly one month between announcing that it would phase out the program and the final deadline to renew paperwork on Oct. 5th.

With the window to renew that protection closing fast, some recipients have already been shut out.

Jesus M., of Kennett Square, said he barely scraped together the $495 application fee one week before the deadline. WHYY is withholding his last name because he fears repercussions when DACA expires.

“I didn’t have money to renew it, it came out of nowhere,” Jesus said. “The money I had, I spent it on a brand new car. If I would have known, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the car.”

DACA allows Jesus to work at a concrete factory to support his wife, who is a permanent resident, and two small children. His mother brought him to the country illegally when he was two and he said he is desperate to stay here.

“I’d pay to the bone to stay here. I don’t have a typical accent. I grew up here. I know more English than Spanish,” he said. Jesus hoped to get a commercial driver’s license so he could make more money, but said that plan might fall through if he loses his ability to work legally.

Since 2012, the Obama-era program has temporarily shielded some young undocumented immigrants from deportation, and given recipients short-term authorization to study and work in the U.S.

Jesus was one of eight DACA recipients or hopefuls getting last-minute help at a legal clinic held at La Comunidad Hispana on Wednesday. Some clients of the Chester County clinic, said immigration attorney Lindsay Sweet, received bad news.

Woman in frame looking right
Immigration lawyer Lindsay Sweet led a team of volunteers at a free clinic for DACA applicants at La Comunidad Hispana in Kennett Square. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I’m hearing a lot of frustration, because there were quite a few DACA recipients who were waiting to see what the administration was going to do with the DACA program and held off on filing their renewal,” she said.

Now, they’ve missed their window. When the administration decided to phase out DACA, it also changed the rules about who could renew it one final time, excluding many young immigrants who could have under the old rules. Only recipients whose previous DACA permits expired between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 are currently eligible to renew.

That time frame covers about 154,000 of the nearly 800,000 people who have used the program since it started in 2012, according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary David Lapan. Next year, more than 270,000 DACA recipients will see their protections expire if Congress does not pass a permanent replacement for the program.

Lawmakers have until March to make that happen, before people who came out of the shadows to sign up will be subject to deportation.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.