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Racing to renew DACA as Congress fails to protect Dreamers



I meet Rodrigo outside the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Application Support Center support center in Cranston, not far from the Garden City Center. Together, we enter a dreary office where signs warn us that there are no photos, no cellphones, no food, no drink, no recording and no electronics allowed. Still, a woman sits in the waiting area scrolling through her cellphone as she waits for a friend to finish his business.

Rodrigo Pimentel immigrated to Rhode Island at the age of 10 months, from Portugal. Their family was unable to adjust to legal status, as they had no immediate family members to sponsor them.

“The vast majority of undocumented immigrants have no viable pathway to citizenship, unless they marry a United States citizen, can argue that they are a refugee in need of asylum, or find an employer willing to sponsor them for a green card,” wrote Rodrigo in their Al Jazeera piece. “This is further complicated by the fact many DACA recipients have accrued unlawful presence or entered without inspection, making it almost impossible to adjust their United States residency without undergoing consular processing abroad and being subject to a 10-year ban from entering the country.”

Rodrigo has DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, to protect them, and that’s why we’re at the USCIS Application Support Center: Every DACA recipient, every two years, has to submit a renewal with their personal information, past and current addresses, a $495 application fee, and also undergo biometrics. The USCIS Application Support Center in Cranston provides biometric capture; which includes fingerprinting and a photograph. USCIS uses this information to process background checks.

This process was ended by the Trump Administration in September 2017 but in January 2018, a California judge ruled that the Trump administration could not end DACA while litigation is pending. As a result, some Dreamers, like Rodrigo, have been able to renew — for what could be the last time.

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On February 16, the United States Supreme Court will decide whether or not to take up a case concerning DACA, and a ruling could come down as soon as June. That’s why it is important that Dreamers consult with an attorney and consider renewing DACA. The flip side is that if the Supreme Court rules against Dreamers, the United States government has collected 6 years worth of information on them: information that can be used against them if DACA status is lost and Congress does nothing.

Congress is currently doing nothing. Democrats, including Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, as well as Representative James Langevin, declined to hold the line for Dreamers in recent budget negotiations. Instead they accepted instead a Republican promise that Congress would soon address the issue of the Dreamers.

“By voting for the two year budget agreement, our Rhode Island delegation — including Senator Whitehouse, Senator Reed, and Representative Langevin, voted for the deportation of Dreamers,” said Rodrigo.

Rodrigo is very prepared and the entire visit to the USCIS Application Support Center takes about 15 minutes. After being freshly photographed and fingerprinted, Rodrigo leaves the office, their new employment authorization document (EAD card or “work permit”) to be mailed to them in a few months. We talk outside as I take their picture with their old card.

“Deferring action to protect Dreamers puts our lives in immediate jeopardy,” Rodrigo tells me. “Every day, 122 Dreamers lose their DACA protections. 1400 Dreamers will lose their jobs every business day.”

As for Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation, “They are not listening to their constituents. 86 percent of Americans overwhelmingly want Dreamers to be protected now. Unfortunately, Congress is part of the 14 percent.

“Both parties have neglected to realize the urgency of this issue, and considerable leverage has been given to the White House – without anything in return. Debating the White House wish list is a debate that leads to Dreamers’ deportations. It cannot get 60 votes in the Senate and it cannot get 218 in the House,” said Rodrigo.

Rodrigo is referring to Trump’s proposal to provide a path to citizenship in exchange for “an end to decades of family-based migration policies, a costly border wall and a vast crackdown on other immigrants living in the country illegally.” One Democratic consultant called Trump’s offer “a white supremacist wish list.”

“Over the next week,” said Rodrigo, “I urge Congress — and our own delegation — to reach across the aisle and push for legislation such as the USA Act introduced by Will Hurd and Pete Aguilar.

“It’s crucial that Congress acts now,” adds Rodrigo. “For the past few weeks, I’ve been unsure of my future. It is the worst feeling in the world. If Congress does not act, the life I’ve built for myself in the United States could be taken away from me by an administration that has made it clear that every undocumented immigrant is a removal priority. Everything I’ve worked so hard for could be taken away by an administration that has already detained and deported Dreamers.”

Rodrigo has an online petition targeting Reed and Whitehouse.

  • Congress must urgently take up a bipartisan bill to permanently protect Dreamers. Our Senators must work to protect Dreamers. Inaction will lead to Dreamers being fired from their jobs, ripped from their communities and deported.
  • This week, the Senate will be starting an immigration debate on Republican Senator McConnell’s terms. Any proposed legislation needs 60 votes to pass — which is why our delegation must reach across the aisle and work on a permanent solution that protects all Dreamers.
  • 20,000 DACA recipients have already lost work authorization and deportation protections. Without a permanent legislative solution, more Dreamers will be at risk of being sent to countries they do not know.

Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island has been holding free walk-in clinics to help with DACA renewal. Due to a donation from the Rhode Island Foundation, all fees associated with DACA renewals is being covered. Without these donations DACA renewal costs $495.

The clinics are open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 9am-4:30pm and Wednesday and Saturday 9am-12:00pm. You can call to schedule appointments for other times at (401) 784-8621.

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