DACA Renewal Will Be Expensive and Confusing

The quick part of an easy fix is running out.

By Aura Bogado Mar 12, 2014

Mariana Molina, 21, is one of 521,747* young people who have been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Molina was born in Guadalajara, Mex., but raised in San Francisco and she’s a senior at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. Her parents encouraged her to apply for DACA and she did so once the program went into effect in 2012. After dealing with some initial problems with a fingerprinting appointment, she was accepted into the program by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in November 2012. But DACA runs out for her this coming November–and she’s not yet sure of the steps she needs to take to renew it.

"Wait, am already I in trouble?" Molina asks when I begin to talk to her about the upcoming deadline, and whether she’s received any notice to renew. She certainly is not in trouble–but with a looming expiration date, she has a short window this summer to square away her renewal.

More than 81 percent of young people who applied for DACA were approved. Deferred action, and the employment authorization that comes with it, is renewable every two years, and the first round of applications should start in about a month. DACA doesn’t confer immigration status, but it does provide young people who arrived to the U.S. before the age of 16, and were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, an identification card and work permits. The program’s biggest draw is that provides relief from deportation. But DACA wasn’t created to last forever. President Obama came up with the program in the middle of a heated campaign season in 2012, and it has provided a quick fix for many young people. But the quick part of that fix is starting to run out.

USCIS, which largely manages the program, has made clear that DACA recipients are responsible for making sure they re-apply. But that won’t be easy. Those who applied when the program began were asked to pay $465–a high price for young people who aren’t legally authorized to work. The renewal fee is also $465. USCIS has also had DACA backlogs, and it’s not yet clear whether a batch of renewals will be processed right away.

Adam Luna, who directs Own the Dream, a national deferred action implementation project, is fairly certain that USCIS is well equipped to handle upcoming renewals. "From what we’ve heard USCIS is going to have pretty hard deadlines for processing these applications," says Luna. "I have a gigantic concern about DACA renewals, but [deadlines are] not at the top of my list."

Luna’s concern revolves around the confusing nature of renewal windows proposed by USCIS. From a recipient’s DACA expiration date, they will be asked to submit their renewal application no sooner than four months before their expiration date but no later than three months prior to it. That’s a narrow 30-day window. While that might work for some recipients, it’s going to get complicated for families with more than one eligible child.

"Take a family with three kids," explains Luna. "Each of them has a different expiration date with a different window that they need to reapply in." While many siblings applied all at once, their applications could be approved at different times. Over the course of several months, explains Luna, these families will be juggling a number of deadlines, and it could be tempting to miss one, or forget one altogether.

The stakes are high: An application received too early will likely be rejected and those applications received too late might mean that the youth in question is no longer protected from deportation. And for that family of three children the fees will be close to $1,500–costs that are so prohibitive that some young people have still not applied as a result. Just as troubling is the fact some DACA recipients have little to no idea about the upcoming renewals.

USCIS hasn’t sent out reminders, and the online renewal form isn’t on its website. A USCIS spokesperson who preferred not to be named told Colorlines, "The form for deferred action [renewal] is not available yet, but is expected to come out in the next couple of months." That’s cutting it dangerously close for the first batch of DACA recipients, who may find out about it all too late.

For advocates like Luna, the communications obstacle is massive. That’s why he’s helped soft-launch an online tool for DACA renewals. Four thousand five hundred people have already registered, and will receive custom emails and texts that alert them about upcoming deadlines. That falls far short of the more than 600,000 recipients, but it’s a start. Luna hopes an upcoming hard launch, along with door-to-door canvassing and phone banking in areas with high DACA recipient populations will encourage people to sign up for reminders about their renewal window.

Molina, who didn’t know she would have to pay to renew her DACA, says that the government is essentially taxing her $465 every two years, without status–much less representation. "It just seems so unfair," she says.

And Molina has a solution. "Just legalize us. We’re already here. We’re already home," she says. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the percentage and number of people who were approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; the correct number is 521,747, about 81 percent of applicants.