New executive orders can offer citizenship to DACA students

By Juan Calvillo

President Joseph R. Biden’s day-one executive orders and the proposed U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 provide a path to citizenship for many undocumented students, but the order faces some legal challenges. East Los Angeles College’s Dream Resource Center and the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) held a meeting covering both executive orders and the proposed act on Wednesday.

Maria Zavaleta, a law student intern with CARECEN, said there were two batches of executive orders that have come from the Biden administration. The day-one executive orders are meant to strengthen Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“What that executive order does is that it calls on Congress to enact legislation that provides permanent status and a path to citizenship to all ‘Dreamers.’ So it would basically be providing support and pressure to Congress to pass the proposal (U.S. Citizen Act of 2021),” Zavaleta said.

“Dreamers” is used to refer to undocumented young people who, through the Dream Act, are given the chance at a pathway to citizenship. 

Zavaleta said the executive order also includes protections that were given to DACA recipients. She said, per the order, the Secretary of Homeland Security would take actions to make sure that these protections held. A challenge to this comes from a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas. She said anyone who submitted applications for DACA during the previous administration and was denied status was then referred to immigration to be removed from the country. Texas’ temporary restraining order allows for people who were denied status to still be deported.

Zavaleta said the Texas lawsuit, Texas v. United States, creates a temporary restraining order on a proposed 100-day pause on deportations. The lawsuit challenges DACA, and is led by Texas and supported by an additional eight states.

Julie Mitchell, managing attorney at CARECEN, said that the Texas lawsuit against DACA has been ongoing for quite some time. She said that there is a possibility that the case could be heard in the Supreme Court.

If the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 passes, it will make changes to immigration policies as well. The act was proposed on day one of the new administration. Mitchell said there are already some people out there who are taking advantage of uninformed undocumented people by telling them that they qualify for this act.

“We’ve already seen attorneys out there, or ‘notarios,’ telling people they can apply for this (U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021). That’s just impossible. It is not a law yet. There’s already fraud being committed out there,” Mitchell said.

She said the bill that passes as a law will look very different from what is being proposed. 

The act would help fix many of the problems that are currently plaguing the immigration laws in the country. 

There is the lawful prospective immigrant status (LPI), that will begin the process for a path to becoming a citizen for undocumented people that have been in the US since January 1, 2021. 

Mitchell said the status would take about five years and the person would become eligible, after fulfilling certain requirements, for a Green Card or visa.

She said there are exceptions to this process. She said that immigrant farm workers, temporary protected status holders and “Dreamers” would be considered different. She said knowing how farm workers, “Dreamers” and Temporary Protective Status (TPS) holders will be defined and the restrictions won’t be known until the bill becomes a law.

“It’s hard because all we have now is the proposal. So, we don’t know how those terms will be defined. Whether ‘Dreamers’ are going to be people who have DACA, or people who would have been eligible for DACA, or if they are going to define ‘Dreamers’ in another way,” Mitchell said.

More of the changes can be seen in the graphic alongside this article.

Adding to that confusion is that California is still operating public charge under the definition set by the previous administration. Public charge pertains to immigrants who may become a dependent or unlikely to earn a living in the United States. Mitchell said that immigration and public charge have always been linked. She said it will take more doing by the Biden administaion to affect the previous President’s changes to public charge rules.

Mitchell said that currently there are many DACA applications being made through CARECEN, and that many attorneys are pushing undocumented people to apply for DACA. She said that if there is a negative outcome in the Texas lawsuit, it would affect all those who have yet to apply. This application can be costly for many undocumented people.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website has the information on the fees for consideration of DACA. 

According to the USCIS website, “The fee to request consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals, including employment authorization and biometric services, is $495, and cannot be waived.” 

Mitchell said that the state of California had helped with this fee through the California Department of Social Services.

“They haven’t had funds now for–probably around the summer of last year. They are the number one provider of filing fee assistance. And they don’t have any funds,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the Mexican Consulate also helps with filing fees. She said this process was more specific in cases and that up until December of 2020 it had helped. She said that currently they are not providing funds for fees. Mitchell said that schools have also helped pay the filing fee. Currently that is not the case at ELAC.

Elizandro Umana, DRC coordinator, said the role the DRC plays is more on the academic side of things. He said that when it comes to DACA and information concerning it, the DRC relies heavily on the connection they have with CARECEN. With attorneys from CARECEN going to court to represent students. The DRC can not help when it comes to the legalities of DACA when it concerns students.

Umana said it comes to the question of what else the DRC and the school can do for the many students at ELAC in this type of legal situation. He said that it would take having a real conversation with the administration at ELAC. Umana said there are things that can be done that other schools might already be doing.

“To be quite frank, one of the things that us as the DRC are not necessarily doing here at ELAC, is providing direct aid to undocumented students,” Umana said.

He said any emergency money that is being provided to students is done through financial aid. A lot of undocumented students are worried about being able to pay the DACA application or renewal. Umana said the total of applying can end up costing students upwards of $600. He said money aid was just one thing that could be done, and that DACA was only one piece of the larger immigration pie.

Umana said that being reactionary is not enough, and that undocumented students should look at the community like ELAC and find those who want to do more than just react. He said that coming together and organizing for immigration change is important at this time.

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