Philly raising money to help DACA recipients renew status

The City of Philadelphia is launching a drive to raise money for DACA recipients who can’t afford to renew their status before an October deadline — their last chance to do so before President Trump ends the program.

Trump’s administration announced last week that it would “wind down” the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which temporarily shields from deportation undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. Recipients renew their status, paying a $495 fee every two years; they can also apply for work permits.

Trump billed the move as a way to force Congress to pass its own version of DACA over the next six months, but has tweeted he will “revisit” the issue if Congress is unable to come up with a solution. In the meantime, the administration has stopped accepting new applications for the protected status, and only DACA recipients whose status expires before March 5, 2018, can renew it. They have until Oct. 5 to do so. For many recipients, coming up with $495 is a daunting task, advocates say.

The fund, run by the Philadelphia Foundation, is accepting donations at http://philafound.org/dreamersinitiative. City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who is spearheading the effort, said several thousand dollars has already been raised. Candidates can apply for assistance until Sept. 25.

“If you care about the future of our nation and its values, it’s time to take action,” Gym said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

No city money is being contributed to the fund, but Gym, the mayor’s office, and several other local officials and advocacy organizations will solicit funds over the next several weeks. Money raised will be distributed to charities that help DACA recipients pay for their status renewals, Gym said.

The Mexican consulate has also pledged to cover fees for Mexican nationals, who make up the majority of recipients.

There are about 5,800 DACA recipients in Pennsylvania; Gym said it’s impossible to tell how many need to renew before the deadline.

The fundraising push comes as Democrats in the GOP-controlled Congress are working to pass the DREAM Act of 2017 — a path to citizenship for childhood arrivals that has been introduced in some form in Congress over the past 16 years. Advocates have urged legislators to pass the bill without concessions to immigration hardliners, such as funding for a border wall or detention centers.

“We’ve had this fight in Congress for the longest time,” U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.) said at Monday’s news conference. He added that he felt encouraged by the recent deal Democrats cut with President Trump to extend the debt ceiling — a sign, he said, that Democrats can hold the majority’s “feet to the fire.”

Behind him, a group of DACA recipients beamed. Several had spent the morning at an emotional meeting with Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), telling him their own stories, many wiping back tears. They spoke of parents with grade-school educations who had brought them to the U.S. hoping to send them to college; of family members who had already been deported; of their own struggles to pay for school or support their families, often working several jobs.

“DACA wasn’t a permanent solution, but it did help us get out of the shadows,” said Claudia Llewelyn, a DACA recipient from Lancaster. “And we have done everything they asked for.”

She married an American citizen two months ago; she and her husband have decided not to have children until her status changes. They’re afraid she might be deported and have to leave her children behind.

Carlos Herrera, who was 8 when he came from El Salvador, said he was starting a job this week in the energy industry, fresh out of Muhlenberg College with degrees in math and physics. He has a year left on his work permit. “I don’t want to be here as a second-class citizen,” he said. “I’m thankful for my education — this country invested a lot in me. It would be a shame to take that investment and move to another country.”

Casey called the decision to rescind DACA “immoral” and said he would work for an act without strings attached, though he said it was difficult so early in the process to predict an outcome.

“I want a clean bill — that makes the most sense,” he said. “And I was encouraged last week by what some Republicans said about support for the bill. We just have to keep growing that number, by making sure that they know these stories.”