YAKIMA – Anxiety is growing as the deadline looms for young immigrants to renew work visas under a program that’s shielded them from deportation but is now nearing its end.
“There’s a lot of sadness, disappointment and fear out there,” said Laura Contreras, directing attorney for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Granger.
She spent Friday morning helping six people fill out the paperwork to renew their status under the Deferred Acton for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which is being rescinded by President Donald Trump.
But Contreras and another advocates say they’re also seeing support from the community to help the young immigrants stay in the country.
Some lawmakers also appear sympathetic. U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse has joined with others in Congress asking the Department of Homeland Security to extend the deadline from Thursday to at least January to give Congress time to implement legislation to replace the program.
When Trump rescinded DACA earlier this month, he gave Congress six months to come up with a replacement. The Obama administration program had protected people who entered the country illegally with their families as children from deportation and allowed them to obtain work permits.
The Trump administration gave those whose permits were expiring between Sept. 5 and March 5 until Thursday to renew for two years.
Contreras said that left many DACA recipients whose permits expired before Sept. 5 unable to renew, while the others are scrambling to make the deadline.
It is unclear how many Yakima County residents are enrolled in the DACA program. Laura Armstrong, executive director at Yakima-based La Casa Hogar, said some estimates suggest about 6,000 people in Yakima County could be affected. And she’s seen more than a few of them come in for help.
“We had a DACA clinic that went from 5:30 to 7:30, and we were pretty busy the whole time,” Armstrong said.
To help late filers, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project will be offering help to walk-ins at its Granger office Monday through Wednesday.
One of the larger hurdles for those renewing is the $495 application fee. Contreras said it’s a burden for some to come up with that money on short notice.
La Casa Hogar has received some donations from the community to help immigrants with the cost.
Armstrong said some of the people helped by La Casa Hogar’s donations in turn gave some money to the group to help others.
In addition to financial donations, local farmers and growers have also written letters urging the administration to extend the deadline, Armstrong said.
“There’s a high level of support in the community for (the DACA recipients),” Armstrong said.
Newhouse, a Republican, joined with other members of Congress to ask the Department of Homeland Security to give DACA recipients more time to renew. Newhouse and the others argued in a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke that the deadline was arbitrary and put undue burdens on recipients.
“It will result in tens of thousands of current DACA holders losing their protection from deportation and ability to work legally and contribute to our nation,” the letter said. “Further, it may push many into the shadows from fear.”
Newhouse is also co-sponsoring legislation that would provide protections for DACA recipients, spokesman Will Boyington said.
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