With the clock ticking, the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City is providing free legal services to Dreamers — people who came to the U.S. as children — seeking to renew their status by Oct. 5.
The deadline is the outcome of President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program within six months.
Consul José Borjón said the government of Mexico will pay the legal expenses for people who want to renew their DACA status. The Dreamers, he said, are immigrants who have lived and worked and served in the military in the United States. They identify with this culture and think of themselves as Americans.
“We really saw a large population of Mexican nationals who were very vulnerable,” he said Tuesday. “We deeply regret the decision to end the DACA program.”
There are about 787,000 DACA beneficiaries in the U.S. and about 9,700 in Utah, according to Action Utah, a non-partisan community engagement network.
Heath Becker, a Salt Lake City-based immigration attorney is working with the Mexican Consulate to provide help filling out DACA renewal forms.
“We see people in our office who try to do it themselves or have a friend do it. And they mess it up,” he said of the renewal process. “There is no excuse not to go to a licensed attorney — or pay for it.”
Monse Palestina, 29, was at the consulate Tuesday to renew her status under DACA. She came here when she was 8 years old. She is now married and has three young children, all born in the U.S., making them American citizens: Erik, 2; Gissele, 8; and Andres, 12.
With their renewal applications in, Palestina and her husband now have two years before they must leave the country, if nothing changes. Many are hopeful that Congress will pass legislation to revitalize DACA.
But her sister, Celia Palestina, 32, who teaches at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center cannot renew her status, which runs out March 16.
DACA beneficiaries must renew applications every two years. Those Dreamers whose benefits expire later than March 6 cannot reapply.
“I hope they do something good for us,” Monse said. “My sister has a good job but she will have to leave.”
To be eligible under DACA, applicants must have immigrated by age 16 and lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007. They had to be 30 or younger when the program was implemented in June 2012.
DACA allows Dreamers to obtain a driver license, enroll in college, work and pay taxes.
It does not provide a pathway to citizenship.
The choice to remain illegally or return to a country they hardly know presents a heartrending choice, according to Dreamers.
Living here illegally, is difficult, Becker explained. “It’s hard to work. It’s hard to support a family. It’s hard to buy a car and a home,” he said. “One traffic ticket and you could be deported.”
On the other hand, he said, those choosing to leave so they can reapply through the immigration system may never return.
“There is a long waiting list,” he said. “If it was easy to come here, there wouldn’t be 12 million undocumented immigrants here.”
Pablo Arcia, 29, came to this country when he was 7. His wife and child are U.S. citizens. He is a software engineer.
“It’s one of my worst nightmares to go back to Mexico,” he said. “There is nothing for me to go back to.”
Living with uncertainty about his immigration status is nerve wracking for him and his wife, Pablo explained.
“I hope Congress can get their act together,” he said. “Not just for Dreamers, but for people who have lived here without a criminal record who only want to work and better themselves.”
There is not a lot of time for Congress to act before eligibility will begin to run out for many Dreamers, Borjón said.
“We really would like to see these leaders step up to find a solution,” he said. “Utahns, who value family, should be appalled that these families would be separated.”
Dreamers can get free legal advice Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon at the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City, 660 S. 200 East. The consulate also can be reached at 801-521-8502.