The final day to apply for the Obama-era initiative that has shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation arrives Friday, leaving advocates for undocumented immigrants calling for a fix.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said about a month ago there would be an unspecified “wind down period,” which was meant to give Congress some time to come up with a potential replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. No replacement has yet to be put in place.
For many undocumented students in Merced, the hand-wringing has begun, according to a 19-year-old UC Merced student who spoke to the Sun-Star under the condition of anonymity. The political science major came to Sacramento at age 6 with her parents, who are from Michoacan, Mexico.
Her undocumented status is cause for worry. "In terms of a career, of course it does (worry me)," she said Wednesday. "We always try to find a way to survive, to work."
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The ending of the program will affect more than 750,000 young people who have obtained work permits through DACA to either study or hold a job. The permits last two years and were renewable. Under Trump’s new plan, once a Dreamer’s work permit expires, that person will be eligible for deportation, effectively phasing out the program by 2019.
The Merced student said she has renewed and expects to be protected through 2019, but she knows others whose DACA protection ends sooner. A friend of hers has even been prodded by relatives to hurry up and marry, she said.
"People that are citizens, even our own families, when the fear settles in the other option is to marry," she said.
Then there's the pressure from those around her that don't understand the process to become a citizen. "Under the current DACA action, there was no path whatsoever," she said.
The process to become a citizen can take decades, and DACA provides no clear pathway to citizenship, advocates have said. The naturalization process can also be expensive, the Merced student said, if families have to hire a lawyer. That's a pricey pathway for a college student whose mother works in a restaurant.
Democratic leaders and Trump said they have reached a deal to protect the immigrants, but Congress has since turned its focus to overhauling the tax code. Democratic congressional leaders say they are waiting on the White House to craft a legislative proposal.
Immigrant advocates around the country have been urging the Trump administration to extend the Oct. 5 deadline and holding legal clinics and donating money to help immigrants cover the $500 renewal fee.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said a short-term extension of DACA is unlikely, and called for a long-term reform of immigration policy.
"As I have been saying for years, America’s immigration system is broken, and we must pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to address the very real problems with our current immigration system,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
The undocumented population in California is significant with about 200,000 young people who came here illegally.
Some Merced County governing bodies have expressed support for the undocumented. Livingston City Council voted Tuesday to draft "a letter of support in finding a fix for DACA," according to Councilman Alex McCabe.
In the meantime, rhetoric from the president has "normalized" the prejudice that undocumented students feel on a daily basis, the UC Merced student said. Social media plays a big part in it, she said.
"The hate is trickling down," she said. "We feel attacked."