The Trump administration has initiated rule changes that will impact the cost for immigrants to renew DACA and other programs which allow access to work, school and military service.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, is a 2012 immigration policy which allows children brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents, to defer deportation if they meet certain criteria. The program was rescinded in 2017 by the Trump administration, but existing DACA recipients are protected until the U.S. Supreme Court makes a ruling on the program in the spring of 2020.
Voices for Utah Children Executive Director Moe Hickey says the organization has seen a spike in requests for assistance to help pay for renewals.
“The majority of the applicants are currently students, and so you're looking at people that aren't in high-paying jobs, for the most part, with students working part time, trying to support themselves," Hickey said. "That's 60-65% fee increase on a burden that’s already been pretty onerous on the people that need the application fee.”
Hickey says there has been bipartisan support for the DACA program as recent as a year and a half ago, with Congressman Rob Bishop, Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee all endorsing the concept. He says DACA is a great model and should be used to initiate a comprehensive immigration policy. Hickey says the renewal period should be expanded to five years and the fee, even at $495, was onerous to so many young people trying to pay for school while working part time for minimum wages.
“There’s biometric screening. You have to have a job. You have to be in school. You have to be in the military. You have to renew every two years. You can only have three misdemeanors. You can't have a felony," Hickey said. "It's a system that actually works and it's been proven to work. It gives employers confidence when they're hiring somebody. The real question is is there really a political will? Is there a bipartisan support of this, because I would argue that they should take DACA, not only expand it, but it should become our immigration program across all levels.”
Ciriac Alvarez, a policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children, says there are approximately 10,000 DACA recipients in Utah. She estimates about half will need to renew their status this year. The renewal fee is going from $495 to $765. But she says the increases will affect many types of immigration applications.
“Now we’re seeing over 50% increases for more than DACA application, but for all applications, and they're doing away with the application fee waiver for all applications," Alvarez said. "So that means that people who can't afford, whether it's a legal permanent residency, asylum, citizenship or DACA or U visas [for victims of crimes] says or VAWA, which is the [Violence] Against Women's Act. They won't be able to request a fee waiver for any of this even if they would qualify.”
Alvarez says the revenue from the fee increases will go toward Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and to detention facilities along the border.
While young immigrants await the supreme court decision, there are students who have graduated from high school and are unable to go to work, school or join the military.
Hickey says the fees are disproportionately affecting poorer immigrants. They’ve recently funded renewals for about 20 students in Summit County, and they plan to start more renewals after the holiday.
“It’s another burden being placed on low-income immigrants coming into the country, which, quite honestly, have been the backbone of our country since its inception," Hickey said. "We're having people come in on HB-1 visas that are working for tech companies. That's great, and I'm not discouraging that or disparaging it. As a country born on immigrants, basically, it's been people that fit into these criteria that have built what we are today.”
Nothing can be done for those students who did not apply or were not eligible for DACA status prior to 2017. Alvarez says one of her own family is in limbo and really has no hope for school or work until the issue is settled in the courts.
"When I was in high school, I obtained DACA my senior year," Alvarez said, "and now we're seeing these young people—they're graduating high school, and they don't have a worker’s permit. They don’t have this sort of hope that young people like me did when I was graduating.” For more information contact Moe Hickey.
Public input on immigration fee increases will be taken through Dec. 30.