For the past six years, Maria Ibarra, who’s been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, has had to face the task of renewing her immigration status every two years.
It’s a daunting and expensive process, but Ibarra didn’t have to pay anything when she filed her most recent application to renew her DACA status, which is set to expire in May. That’s because she’s among dozens of Dreamers who have received financial assistance to file their applications from ordinary Minnesotans who wanted to help.
In fact, even as most of the country’s focus on DACA revolves around debating whether individuals like Ibarra brought to the U.S. as children should be allowed to lawfully reside and work in the country, many of those DACA recipients themselves have far more pragmatic concerns: Amid all the uncertainty over the program, is it really worth the time and investment in the renewal process?
To do so, DACA recipients have to pay $495 to the Department of Homeland Security in application fees. That’s often on top of the $500-$1,500 they also have to pay for legal services and other fees.
Enter Kara Lynum, an immigration attorney in St. Paul. Lynum has led an effort to pool nearly $30,000 to help Ibarra and others pay for their DACA application fees. “We know for sure it would help 50 people,” said Lynum. “It sort of gives me hope that there are still good things that can happen in the face of all these negative things that are happening with immigration.”
The idea to raise the funding began in January after Lynum was interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Weber about how the uncertainty around DACA is impacting the lives of the more than 7,000 DACA recipients in Minnesota.
After the interview, a listener called Lynum’s law firm in St. Paul, saying that she wanted to pay the filing fees for some of the DACA program applicants. Lynum, an avid Twitter user, shared the news with her followers.
Within days, more than 150 people joined in to raise money to help DACA applicants. Ibarra became one of the first people who submitted their applications thanks to those efforts. “They could be spending their money on something else,” but they chose to support struggling DACA recipients, said Ibarra, a single mother and nursing student at Minneapolis Technical and Community College. “To me, that was very touching.”
The distribution of the money is organized through the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM), which has been providing legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees for decades now, to help deserving DACA recipients renew their status.
“I think it’s a really powerful value statement that Minnesotans have made,” said John Keller, executive director of the organization. “This is a very tangible thing that people feel really good about.”
But finance isn’t the only form of assistance the organization has been receiving from members of the public in recent months. The organization has also seen more people signing up to volunteer with ILCM and joining its social media pages in solidarity with DACA recipients.
And that support continues to bloom amid a growing uncertainty of the DACA program, which was established in 2012, during the Obama administration, for people who entered the United States as children and have clean criminal records. The program allows them to work, drive and attend higher education in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
Last September, however, the Trump administration rescinded the program, which left thousands of Minnesota residents at risk of eventual deportation. Last month, however, a federal judge in California temporarily blocked the decision, forcing immigration authorities to reopen the DACA application process for renewal proceedings. Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican legislators in Washington, D.C., are in heated immigration negotiations about the fate of current and future immigrants, both documented and undocumented.
“We’re hopeful that the promise that [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell made to take up immigration reform for Dreamers will happen within the next week or it will be the first agenda item after February 8th,” Keller said. “We’re talking about an immediate action.”