University organization helps undocumented students renew DACA permits

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Immigrants’ rights organization University Leadership Initiative hosted a counsel session Saturday at Austin Community College-Eastview for undocumented students reapplying to a federal, deferred-action program that gives undocumented youth temporary lawful presence in the U.S.

In June 2012, the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is a two-year program that permits work authorization and prevents the deportation of undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31 who meet certain requirements. According to the University Leadership Initiative, 400 undocumented students at the University could be eligible for deferred action.

For undocumented youth who received deferred action in 2012, the grant will expire this summer, meaning many will have to reapply. Radio-television-film junior Sheridan Lagunas has worked with the University Leadership Initiative and the teachers’ union Education Austin to provide three sessions this summer that will provide applicants with free attorney services. Lagunas said attorneys review the applications for mistakes or missing documents.

“It’s important to have those free attorney resources to check if everything is right because there’s no appeal process with this application,” Lagunas said. 

Lagunas said the University Leadership Initiative hopes to help 90 undocumented immigrants with the reapplication process through legal counsel sessions and another 90 people through information sessions throughout the summer.

Lagunas, who arrived in the U.S. at the age of one, will reapply for deferred action in July. He said receiving work authorization has made attending a university more accessible for him and other undocumented students.

“Undocumented students aren’t eligible for federal grants or federal loans,” Lagunas said. “But with DACA, I’m able to work and support myself, whereas I know people in the past have had more trouble with college.”

According to Lagunas, many of the applicants have been high school students, such as Jose Garibay, a senior at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. Garibay said he hopes to attend the University and graduate with a degree in biomedical engineering. After receiving deferred action his sophomore year of high school, Garibay said he thought he could aspire to have a professional career.

“Before I got DACA, I didn’t think about my future that much,” Garibay said. “I just wanted to get to college. But knowing that I can get a job thanks to DACA, I started finally thinking what I wanted my career to be.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security website, the deferred action program does not change a person’s status and does not provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship. Lourdes Diaz, an administrator at the Immigration Clinic, said the deferred action program is a temporary solution to a larger problem.

“Some people don’t qualify, and some people who have submitted the application do not end up getting DACA. Also, the Department of Homeland Security has the option to terminate or renew DACA whenever they would like,” Diaz said. “This program is patching a very large wound in immigration reform with a small Band-Aid.”