President Trump’s decision to end DACA, the program that shields undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, has left a lot of questions about what’s next.
Tuesday’s announcement comes with a six-month reprieve from deportation for nearly 800,00 beneficiaries of the program, including an estimated 50,000 of them in Florida.
No new applications for DACA will be accepted, effective immediately. But applications already received by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the government agency that administers the program, will be processed normally. And anyone whose DACA status expires between now and March 5, 2018, has until October 5 to apply for renewal.
While much remains unclear, many South Florida immigration attorneys agree on one simple piece of advice for their clients: Don’t panic but take precautions.
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“It seems simple, but it’s the most important thing, don’t panic, don’t freak out,” said Coral Gables immigration attorney Atara Eig. “This is not the end of the world. There are a lot of things that could happen, a lot of possible solutions...And what you’re hearing at the water cooler or the cafeteria may not necessarily be true.”
Randy McGrorty, executive director of the Catholic Legal Services office of the Archdiocese of Miami, agreed: “DACA was always temporary. Remember what it stands for — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That’s not even really an immigration status, it’s just a promise not to deport you. It didn’t even exist before 2012.
“We knew it was going to end someday,” he said. “We’ve faced this situation before.”
Immigration attorneys say it will take some time to completely understand the ramifications of DACA’s end. But they offered some general tips for DACA beneficiaries concerned about where they stand as the program closes down.
▪ Talk to a lawyer. “This is going to sound really self-serving,” said Eig. “But it’s still true — consult an immigration lawyer. Not a notario, not a paralegal, and not a lawyer who doesn’t specialize in immigration.”
“Most immigration lawyers offer a consultation for a flat rate, from $100 to maybe $350, and they’ll go over your entire immigration history with you to see what other avenues besides DACA may be open to you. It’s going to be well worth it.” Some public-service law offices, including Catholic Legal Services, may do a consultation for a cheaper price — or even for free — if you meet their financial guidelines.
▪ You are not your cousin, brother-in-law or downstairs neighbor. “Every case is different,” said Miami immigration attorney Randy Sidlosca. “Just because the guy down the street is getting deported does not mean you will be, no matter how much his story sounds like yours.”
Federal immigration law is incredibly complicated, so much so that many attorneys who start working on it eventually drop their other cases to concentrate on immigration alone. “Immigration law is incredibly complex — with tax codes, it’s the most complex part of the federal statutes,” said McGrorty.
“And that’s why immigrants often aren’t very well-informed about their options. Academic studies have been done that show one of six people with immigration problems have pathways under existing law to fix their status. But a lot of them just don’t know it.”
▪ Lots of things could have changed since the last time you tried to get citizenship or residency. “Maybe the circumstances for you or your family are different,” said Eig. “Maybe you married a U.S. citizen. Maybe your mother became a U.S. citizen and can petition for you to stay.”
Or perhaps your native country has erupted into political violence that threatens you. “If you’re from Venezuela, maybe you’ve got a reasonable fear of persecution if you go back there,” said McGrorty.
And it’s also possible the law itself has changed, opening a possible avenue to escape deportation.
“There are really a lot of little-known things in the law now,” said McGrorty. “If you’ve been a victim of domestic violence by a U.S. citizen, that might give you a way out — the government decided it wasn’t right for people to have to tolerate being beaten up out of fear of losing their green card.
“Then there’s something known as a U-visa for victims of crime who help the police investigate and prosecute it. The fact that immigration law is complicated sometimes works to your advantage.”
For information about immigration and how to find an attorney, visit the Administrative Relief Resource Center website at www.adminrelief.org.
Follow Glenn Garvin in Twitter @GlennGarvin