Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, has long been giving immigrants who were brought here as youth an opportunity to work and study in the U.S. lawfully.
But recently, DACA recipients have been reporting longer delays in the renewal of their status, putting many of their employment eligibility at risk. Or in some cases, completely taking away their ability to work legally.
Jennifer Tello, a recent graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago, started her DACA renewal process back in March but hasn’t yet received her card.
“I got a degree in chemical engineering, and I was so happy to start my engineering career, but just having delay after delay, like, ‘OK it should come in by July ... OK maybe August ... September,” Tello said. “Now it’s November ... I just really hope that I can start by January. This whole thing has been really frustrating and sad because I see how all of my friends, my classmates are moving forward with their careers,” Tello said.
Alfredo Estrada, an attorney handling immigration cases and partner at Burke Costanza & Carberry, says DACA renewals have been taking between four to six months, sometimes longer.
Joanna Jaimes, program manager at Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, says the delay is extreme.
“I mean people are having to face circumstances like losing their jobs or having to put their life on hold because they’re not able to obtain a work permit,” Jaimes said. “With any immigration service, there’s always a bit of a waiting time. But now we’re seeing over the last couple of months that time has increased.”
Estrada believes COVID-19 has affected processing times, but the real blame is on Congress.
“The cause of DACA recipients being in the position they are is because our democracy is not working properly,” Estrada said. “We have the administration, executive branch, trying to enforce immigration law, create immigration law, and the judicial branch determining whether they are going outside their power. And this has been going on since the Obama administration.”
Jaimes’ office assists their clients by submitting congressional inquiries as a way “to check in on a case,” which she stated, they have been doing more frequently.
“It’s a request that we work on with the congressman in our area in Round Lake,” Jaimes said. “We work a lot with congressman Schneider’s office to submit these congressional inquiries so they can, in a way, check in on the case.”
The Senate parliamentarian recently ruled that a path to citizenship for Dreamers and other immigrants cannot be included in a legislative package, but some continue to advocate for it.
“I really hope that people in Congress can really push towards having us — CPS workers, essential workers, dreamers — on that bill,” Tello said. “Because even though DACA has helped so much ... I need more security. I have been contributing well to society and I know this country as my home. And I’d like to make that permanent without feeling like, ‘OK, any time now,’ they can just take away DACA and they could just deport me to a country I don’t know anything much about anymore.”
We also reached out to the agency handling DACA renewals, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to join this conversation but didn’t receive a response in time.