Itzel Perez, left, and Karina Espana were among the ‘Dreamers’ available to assist others with the DACA renewal process during a clinic at the Red Bank Primary School Monday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Preparing themselves for the worst, more than a dozen undocumented young immigrants turned out at the Red Bank Primary School Monday night for guidance on navigating a future made less certain in recent weeks by the Trump administration.
A handful of organizations, including Horizons at the Jersey Shore and the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, brought in an immigration law expert, as well as knowledgeable Dreamers themselves, to assist others facing a ticking clock on their status as students, workers and residents.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was created by executive order of then-President Barack Obama in 2012. It gave immigrants who came to the United States as undocumented minors temporary protection from immediate deportation and permits to work here legally.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced plans to rescind the DACA program, putting the nearly 800,000 so-called Dreamers at risk of deportation, many to countries they left as babies.
Itzel Perez, a 23-year-old Dreamer and Red Bank resident whose status is not up for renewal, came out Monday night to help others with paperwork.
A recent graduate of New Jersey City University, with dual degrees in national security and political science, she said her plans to seek a job in the cybersecurity field are “on hold” because of uncertainty about her ability to retain a work permit, where she’s lived since being brought here from Mexico at age 10.
“A lot of people in the community are scared, a lot of people in the community are confused as to where to go from here,” said Perez, who volunteers with numerous organizations, including Holiday Express, when not at her job with a lobbying organization. “And it’s sad, because we don’t have an answer as to what is going to come next.”
Karina Espana, 21, also of Red Bank, called the administration’s plan to rescind DACA “heartbreaking.” A sociology major at Brookdale Community College who arrived in the U.S. from Mexico as a six-year-old, she was planning to transfer to NJCU for a four-year degree, but now, “I have to stop everything that I was doing, because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Espana works two part-time jobs to pay for school, but her plans beyond this year, she said, are also “on hold.”
Young immigrants whose DACA status expires between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 must apply for renewal by October 5.
“One of our goals tonight is that, even if they fall outside that window and their documentation expires beyond March 5, that [the Dreamers] are prepared,” said Lori Hohenleitner, of the Horizons program. For example, some, “for various honest reasons,” didn’t have all the needed paperwork, including proof of address, or copies of prior DACA applications, she said.
Hohenleitner said United We Dream and an anonymous individual donor would pay the $495 application fee for each Dreamer who applied Monday night.
Five Dreamers completed renewal applications at the clinic, and 10 more received guidance, according to the borough Human Relations Advisory Committee, which co-sponsored the event.
Monday’s event was pulled together over the course of a week at the initiation of Red Bank resident Jill Noyes-Burden after a recent “emergency” meeting at the home of another local activist.
“I felt helpless” in the days following the Trump administration announcement of the program’s rescinding by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, she told redbankgreen. “These people are my community.”
New Jersey is home to about 22,000 DACA recipients, the ninth-highest number among the states, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, an economic justice advocacy organization. But while 25 percent of Dreamers nationally are expected to be eligible for renewal through late 2019 or early 2020, only about only about 12 percent of New Jersey’s Dreamers will be able to renew their permits for two more years, according to NJPP.
About 3.8 percent of the state’s DACA recipients live in Monmouth County, according to NJPP.
Perez said “a lot” of Dreamers live in Red Bank, but the number is unknown, in part because even within the Latino community, talk about one’s immigration status had until recently been something a taboo subject. Oarents wanted to shield their children from thoughts of a hopeless future, she said.
“We’ve only recently started having honest conversations about it,” she said. “When you’re a kid, you don’t understand what this means, and your parents don’t want to tell you, because they don’t understand what it means. And even if they know, they don’t want to tell you when you’re a kid hoping to go to college or into the military.”
Among other impacts, the Trump policy, if followed through, will cause “serious harm” to the Garden State’s economy, NJPP said in a recent report. NJPP estimates it would result in a nearly one-third drop in the $66 million of state and local taxes paid by the 87 percent of working Dreamers each year, as well as a $1.6-billion decline in state Gross Domestic Product.