SALT LAKE CITY — When he was 3 years old his parents brought him to the United States; now, at 26, this country is all that Miguel knows.
Miguel Gomez, a Saint Francis of Assisi parishioner, of was able to achieve a college education, which landed him a better-paying job, thanks to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but a traffic violation has caused him to lose his status, he said, and now he is among the thousands of immigrants who fear deportation.
The purpose of DACA is to protect from deportation eligible immigrant youth who came to the U.S. as children. If they meet specific qualifications that include a high school diploma and/or enrollment in college, and lack of a criminal record, they are able to apply for a work permit. However, the program expires after two years, although recipients are able to apply for renewal. DACA does not provide lawful immigration status or a path to citizenship.
Since 2017, U.S. Homeland Security has stopped accepting new DACA applications, but recipients have been allowed to renew them.
As part of an effort to support local DACA recipients in the renewal process, on June 22 several community organizations offered a “DACA Day” at the Consulate of Mexico in Salt Lake City. Forty families gathered for consultations and help in filling out the forms. Some monetary aid was available to Mexican citizens to help pay the processing fee, which costs almost $500.
Such efforts to support the community are important because “many people in our community have lots to offer to this state and to the country. … They are very hardworking, smart people who just need an opportunity,” said Luzmila Zepeda, a representative of Holy Cross Ministries who is accredited by the Department of Justice.
HCM’s mission is to “respond to the underserved community’s need for health and wellbeing,” and “this involves helping our immigrants because they have lots to offer,” said Zepeda, who was among the presenters at DACA Day.
During the five-hour event, she helped the attendees fill out forms, and gave consultations for specific cases that needed legal assistance.
Working with the Mexican consulate and other organizations “to make the opportunity accessible to more people so they can keep contributing to this country, is something that we are very grateful to participate in,” she said.
“We are very interested in the wellbeing of the people, especially of the young Mexicans who are here for different reasons so they can feel safe,” said Eloy Monge, protection consul, about hosting the DACA Day.
People seeking to renew their DACA permit should get advice before filling out the forms, Monge said.
“We have daily programs in which we can refer them to lawyers who can help them. And on Mondays and Thursdays until the end of July, lawyers will be accessible through the consulate to help fill out the forms,” he said.
Holy Cross Ministries also offers consultation services and other help related to DACA, as well as immigration in general, by appointment, Zepeda said. In addition, HCM has resources such as referrals for scholarships, legal support for immigrant victims of violence, support for those applying for humanitarian or temporary status, family reunification assistance and citizenship services.
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, in 2018 an estimated 699,350 DACA recipients resided in the United States; of those, 321,920 individuals are set to have their status expire before the end of August.