Should I Apply for DACA? Can I Renew? Lawyer Answers DACA Recipients’ Questions

Vanessa Esparza-López, a supervising attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center’s Immigrant Legal Defense Project, explains how the Supreme Court’s ruling will impact DACA recipients.

Above: The United States Supreme Court, which made a decision in June impacting 650,000 DACA recipients. By Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock

The Supreme Court rejected President Donald Trump’s attempt to end DACA in an opinion June 18 finding that the administration’s move to end the immigration program was unlawful. 

The court’s 5-4 ruling protects the eight-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for now. but it leaves the door open for the Trump administration to try to terminate the program in the future. Nearly 650,000 undocumented immigrants currently have DACA status, which allows them to work and study in the United States.

Shortly after the Supreme Court decision, President Trump announced his plans to try to end DACA again. 

“We actually won, because [the court] basically said, ‘You won, but you have to come back and redo it.’ We didn’t lose. We’re gonna refile it,” Trump told a crowd at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20.

To help answer DACA recipients’ questions about the Supreme Court’s ruling, Borderless Magazine talked to Vanessa Esparza-López, a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center. This interview was originally broadcast on Instagram Live and has been condensed for print.


Borderless Magazine: What exactly was the Supreme Court’s opinion?

Vanessa Esparza-López: The Supreme Court decided that it had the ability to review the administration’s decision to rescind DACA and that while the Trump administration has the power to end the DACA program, the way that the White House terminated the program in 2017 was not in accordance with the law, in particular with the Administrative Procedures Act. 

I think this was the second best possible outcome that we could have expected from the Supreme Court. The best possible outcome would have been the court addressing the DACA program itself, but they didn’t touch that. They didn’t say whether it was lawful or unlawful. What they said was the Trump administration’s process in terminating the programs was unlawful. So the ball is in their court now to make sure that they are complying with the law. 

Borderless Magazine: Now that the Supreme Court ruled, what happens to the DACA recipients?

Esparza-López: For those DACA recipients who have an application pending right now for their renewal benefits, the government is going to continue making a decision. For those that didn’t renew, we are encouraging them to go ahead and renew as soon as possible. 

My advice would be if you are eligible to renew, as soon as you’re able to, talk to a legal service provider and try to renew. Because we don’t know how long that window’s gonna open, unfortunately.

Borderless Magazine: What about those who are eligible for DACA but don’t currently have it. Should they apply?

Esparza-López: We believe the administration is compelled to begin accepting initial DACA applications. We haven’t necessarily received instructions from the agency, but we’re encouraging folks to start gathering the documentation that they’re going to need for eligibility, which might be a little difficult given that this is all happening in the midst of a pandemic. So it might not be easy to contact the school for your records or it might take a little longer for your employer to give you that employment letter. That proof is going to take a little time to gather, and so people should be focusing on that so that if they’re able to, they could submit that application.

Borderless Magazine: If undocumented immigrants need legal assistance, where should they go? 

Esparza-López: They can certainly contact our organization, the National Immigrant Justice Center, which is based here in Chicago. We also have offices in Indiana, Washington, in San Diego but the bulk of our direct legal services is located in our Chicago and Indiana offices. On our website we have a calendar that has the consultation dates that we have specifically for people that want to renew DACA and for those that want to apply for the first time.

Borderless Magazine: What other legal issues should undocumented people be thinking about at this time?

Esparza-López : We’ve seen that this administration is very enforcement heavy. In terms of whether they’re going to take actions against DACA recipients specifically, we haven’t seen that. We learned not too long ago that ICE actually had access to DACA recipients’ information this whole time. Previously, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the sub agency that handles the DACA cases, said that unless there was some sort of security or criminal concern, USCIS would not give out DACA recipients’ information. But through this recent lawsuit, we learned that while USCIS wasn’t giving information, ICE had information all along that they could access in a database. So, it’s important for DACA recipients to know this, but also understand that we haven’t seen that type of enforcement so that they can make the decision as to whether they want to renew or whether they want to apply for a first time. 

Borderless Magazine: What are you thinking about next now that the Supreme Court has ruled on DACA?

Esparza-López: The Supreme Court decision was great, but we have to keep fighting not only to preserve the DACA program, but also find a more permanent fix for all individuals in this community. I fear that the government is going to try to give relief to DACA recipients at the cost of individuals who are criminalized by our oppressive, repressed, racist systems that we have in place. The fights that Black Americans are facing right now are very similar to the fight that immigrants are facing. We’re facing the same racism, same oppression. The same system that is killing Black people is deporting Black and Brown immigrants. So we’re looking for solutions that don’t criminalize our community further, that don’t invest more money into enforcement. Like the call to defund police, we want to defund ICE. We don’t know how much time we have, but we want to encourage folks to renew for DACA but also think bigger picture.

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