By JESS FELDMAN
Capital News Service
LANGLEY PARK, Maryland — As the deadline to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, expired Thursday, program participants and immigrants-rights activists gathered to share stories and announce that they will continue the fight to stay in their home, America.
Officials at CASA announced they will sue the federal government over the elimination of the DACA program, which has given two-year renewable work permits to more than 800,000 immigrants who came to the United States as minors since the immigration policy was instituted in 2012.
CASA is the largest DACA-service provider in the state — headquartered in Langley Park, Maryland — and provides legal assistance and support to immigrants.
CASA and its legal team are suing the Trump Administration on the basis that the government did not follow proper procedures in dismantling the program and was “motivated by an unconstitutional racial animus against Mexican and Central American DACA beneficiaries,” according to Fernanda Durand, CASA’s communications manager.
“And this is one step in a long fight,” said CASA’s Executive Director Gustavo Torres. “CASA has been fighting (alongside) the dreamers for many years.”
According to Durand, DACA participants — also known as dreamers — come from many different countries but the majority are Mexican and Central Americans, hence the specification within the lawsuit.
If one’s DACA benefits expired before Sept. 5 or after March 5, 2018, they are not eligible for renewal and are subject to potential deportation, according to Jonathan Smith, a lawyer on CASA’s legal team from Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
Missael Garcia, a 27-year-old DACA recipient for the past two years, led a group of about 20 hopeful-dreamers in chants and songs that represented their cause. Garcia continuously raised his fist in the air and chanted, “Si, se puede,” — yes we can.
Garcia did not share why, but he was unable to renew his status. According to CASA’s legal team, many immigrants can’t renew either because of the time restraint or because they are unable to pay the $495 fee to renew every two years.
“My baby was literally born yesterday, so I am a new dad you know, joining the club of daddies. I think that being stable in this country with legal status is going to help me a lot to support my child now and I feel more determined to fight for her, fight for myself, for my situation and not just for mine, but for everybody in general.”
Other DACA recipients who shared their stories include Maricruz Abarca, a 32-year-old business owner and mother of three who came to the U.S. when she was 15, and Estefany Rodriguez, a 20-year-old dreamer who suffers from brain cancer.
“Even though I am on a walker now, I will walk again,” Rodriguez said confidently while other dreamers held her at the podium.
Abarca received her GED in June 2016 after countless hours of studying, has a business license and takes classes at Baltimore City Community College in hopes of becoming a lawyer. Following the expiration of DACA, Abarca will no longer be able to continue running her three automotive-related businesses.
“I cried. I saw my husband, my mother, my kids running towards me and I got this diploma in my hand and that shows them that yes, you can do anything you want and now we want to get this opportunity. We need DACA.”
Daniella Acosta, a 17-year-old who has been a DACA recipient she was 15, explained that despite the fear of uncertainty that followed the Trump Administration’s decision to end DACA, this lawsuit makes her optimistic.
“The plans you had are going to change because now, the opportunity that gave you a vision is took, so definitely everything that you think is one thing is another,” Acosta said. “It gives you hope. We had the hope and then it was kind of took for a month, but this is giving you more of a chance to feel like DACA will stay and there may be a bigger opportunity for all of us.”
The lawsuit is expected to be filed with the U.S. District Court located in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Other organizations named as plaintiffs in the suit include the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of California (CHIRLA), One America, Make the Road Pennsylvania, Michigan United, Arkansas United Community Coalition and the Junta for Progressive Action.