Sheridan Lagunas

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.”

Juan Belman is a member of the University Leadership Initiative at UT. Belman was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and will have to reapply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) grant by January in order to stay in the U.S. for school.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Nearly two years ago, the Obama administration announced a new program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which ordered the Department of Homeland Security to use prosecutorial discretion to curb the deportation of those brought to this country illegally as children.

However, early recipients of protection, people like radio-television-film junior Sheridan Lagunas, are running out of time on their deferrals. The program only guarantees a reprieve from federal authorities for two years, and thus thousands of undocumented immigrants must reapply or face deportation once more.

This renewal process is often easier said than done. Applicants must pay a $465 application fee — renewing applicants have to pay a second time —and navigate through an arduous online system. As any veteran of the Obamacare website boondoggle could testify, this might be the hardest and most unpredictable part of the process.

Most frustrating, though, is the fact that participants in this program must reapply to begin with. We support the DREAM Act and believe that all undocumented immigrants, if they are brought to this country as children, should be given legal status. Furthermore, we believe that if — like Lagunas — they attend a university or join the armed forces, they should be granted U.S. citizenship.

For people like Lagunas, this country is all that they have ever known. They had no control over a choice to enter this country without authorization, and thus deportation shouldn’t be a fear that ever crosses their minds. Not only do we support the DACA program, we believe it should be expanded to give legal status and a pathway to citizenship for such young people.