By Jean Serrano and Monse Mora
Yarine Velez and Jeimmy Ramirez are among 34,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in Illinois.
Velez immigrated with her family when she was only 6 years old. Before DACA, she was living in The United States illegally and with constant fear of being deported. She has had DACA since it was introduced in 2012.
“I applied for DACA right away,” she said. “I had hesitations because there was a lot of uncertainty that Obama would not be re-elected and a new incoming party would just start mass deportations.
“When Trump became president I cried for days as I knew my time in the US might come to an end, at that point I was older and married. I had a lot to lose if I was removed from the country. Fortunately that was not the case, yet the uncertainty persists and continues to be an issue as DACA is always in limbo. The same hesitations I once had back in 2012, are the same hesitations thousands of DACA recipients are facing right now.”
Like several others, Velez was fearful of DACA and exposing her status to the US government. However, she was still grateful for having the opportunity to be eligible for it and to be able to afford it. Before DACA, Velez was only making $12 an hour working under the table for an accountant at a harp factory filing paperwork.After DACA, she was eligible to apply for higher-paying jobs that would ultimately end up paying her a near six-figure salary.
Velez said, “Let’s just say before DACA I was making $12 an hour, as soon as I received DACA I was able to work at a position that paid $18 an hour and 10 years later I am now earning close to 6 figures at a steel company which I am the regional manager of. I owe this not only to my mother who was the biggest DACA supporter and who said I should apply, in fact helped me pay for a lawyer to apply the first time back in 2012 when it first came about.”
According to The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, 46% of DACA recipients say that DACA has enabled them to become more financially independent and 51% say that they have been able to better help their family financially.
Chicago is a sanctuary city, which means that the Chicago Police Department does not affiliate with ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Because of this, the city has a heavy population of undocumented people, including those with DACA.
DACA is a legal document that protects unauthorized childhood arrivals from deportation and gives work authorization. However, obtaining DACA is tedious and expensive. A lot of Chicagoans under DACA struggle paying the55% increase fee renewals and completing the paperwork for approval.
“I did apply for DACA when it was first introduced,” Ramirez said. “I had hesitation because of the uncertainties and personal information that was asked about my parents. I also feared losing everything that my parents and I have built in the states. Also, being a first-time applicant, I did not know how to start with the whole process and how I would pay for it.”
Renewing DACA costs $495 and strict background checks are required for the application process. This would work off the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services DACA recipient documentation that lists Active DACA Recipients for each year since DACA started and how that number constantly fluctuates due to difficult requirements.
Ultimately, those with DACA have a path to citizenship in mind since DACA is only temporary due to renewals. Pimentel mentioned that The Department of Homeland Security has a form 9111-97-P that says “A hypothetical family of four would have to pay an additional $3,115 over a 3-year period to maintain their status and secure citizenship.” This means that besides DACA, if a person decides to file for citizenship, they are constantly expected to pay fees to secure their citizenship.
The people who are eligible for DACA, according to the Department of Homeland Security, Form I-821D states that anyone who was under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012 and was present in the country at the time of making the request for DACA and came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday.
The form also mentions that the person applying for DACA must have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007 and has had no lawful immigration status on June 15, 2012. Also, they must not have been convicted of a felony, and have had high school completion.
Those who are qualified for renewal are those who have continuously resided in the country since their approved DACA request, did not leave the country on or after Aug. 15, 2012, and has not been convicted of a felony, major misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and is not a national security threat.
Most DACA recipients are young since they must be under the age of 31 by the time they applied as of June 15, 2012, according to the American Immigration Council.
Unlike Velez, several of the 590,070 DACA recipients struggle to pay for their DACA renewal fees and face getting their DACA revoked. According to The American Immigration Council, As of December 31, 2020 46,000 DACA renewal applications were denied and a factor to these denials may be lack of money.
Unless a DACA recipient poses a threat to national security, DACA will not expose immigration status and or information in the form of the recipient. However, the DACA recipient without renewal will face living in the country illegally again.
According to The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, many undocumented youth live in financially vulnerable situations. 77% of DACA recipients used for CCIS research report annual personal incomes below $25,000 and only 20% report having enough personal income to pay their monthly expenses.
Zsa-Zsa Pimentel, an ICIRR Consultant for the Immigration Family Support Project, said that increasing DACA fees will make it difficult to renew their work permits and individuals will lose the ability to work legally in The United States. DACA is ever changing and Pimentel recommends that even if you have an attorney, to always read up on DACA rules and regulations.
Pimentel mentioned that the Trump Administration threatened to increase renewal fees to $765 back in 2019. The fee has already gone up from $465 in 2012 to now being $495. DACA recipients are constantly threatened on fee renewals to raise and the Department of Homeland Security has proven that it is possible to increase these fees.
DACA recipients are Dreamers from foreign nationals brought to the United States as children and do not have lawful immigration status. Dreamers are a subset of the unauthorized U.S. population. Explaining the Administration’s decision to put forth the DACA policy, then-President Obama cited unsuccessful legislative efforts to pass Dream Act legislation.
Established in 2012, DACA enables benefits to immigrants who entered the U.S. before 16 and met other requirements. To live and work in the U.S. on a renewable basis. Dreamers receive protection from any removal and receive work authorization: while not granting or putting a pathway for legal immigration status.
This report is focused on the DACA population. This subset of immigrants (DACA eligible population) has raised in interest and attention since 2012.
Even in discussions and proposals in the context of lawful status by creating lawful permanent residents (LPR’s). Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR’s) are also known as “green cards,” where it gives non-citizens legal authority to live permanently in the United States. LPRs could accept any offer of employment without certain restrictions, like owning property, receiving financial assistance, and joining the Armed Forces.
Pimentel mentioned that even though the DACA process is tedious and expensive, there are programs such as The Illinois Coalition For Immigrant and Refugee Rights, that help with the process and alleviate some stress that DACA recipients experience.
Dreamers, or DACA recipients, who do not satisfy 2012 DACA criteria are subjected to legalization proposals. Since there is no understanding of this population, individuals need to itemize criteria for LPR mechanisms. The requirements are the age of U.S. entry, length of U.S. residence, and educational attainment to be eligible.
While designing legalization programs for childhood arrivals, policymakers have opted to go beyond DACA criteria, requiring knowledge of the English language and U.S. civics. They might also impose fees for applications and penalties. All of these factors affect the potential beneficiary population since according to The New American Economy, it is estimated that the spending power of the DACA-eligible population is close to $20 billion.
The opportunity of DACA has positively impacted the lives of those eligible as Velez can attest:
DACA has had nothing but a huge positive impact in my life and basically made a huge difference for my future, as it allowed me to further my education and with that apply for positions that wouldn’t have had been skilled or had the education for. It allowed me to provide for my daughter as a single mother. I was able to better not only my life but my baby’s life as well once I started earning a decent amount of money.