Immigrant rights activists scramble to help DACA recipients stay protected ahead of looming deadline

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.— At the La Colmena community center in Staten Island, New York, immigrant rights activists are working overtime to help protect some of the nearly 160,000 young undocumented people whose protected status is at risk because of the Trump administration.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty anxiety and fear,” said Cesar Vargas, New York’s first undocumented attorney, who is a DACA recipient and co-founder of the undocumented rights group Dream Action Coalition.

Vargas spent Wednesday holding a free legal clinic for young immigrants facing a looming deadline that could mean the difference between protection and possible deportation. 

Approximately 1 in 5 young undocumented immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program have spent the last month scrambling to renew their status before the Oct. 5 deadline set by the Trump administration.

In September, President Donald Trump announced he would end the DACA program in six months if Congress did not come up with a legislative solution during that time. In addition to sunsetting DACA after six months, Trump’s decision prevented any new entrants from joining the program.

RELATED: Faces of those impacted by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

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Faces of those impacted by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
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Faces of those impacted by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
Paulina, 26, a DACA recipient, is comforted after watching U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on a projection screen at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. Paulina, a graduate of UCLA, arrived in the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She said the decision was really upsetting but she was going to continue to work to push members of Congress to enact a law to protect their rights. "We are not going to give up", she said. REUTERS/Monica Almeida
Young DACA recipients, Mario, Melanie and Luis, watch U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, on a projection screen at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Monica Almeida
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, CHIRLA spokesman and Communications Director (R), along with staff and young DACA recipients watches U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, on a projection screen at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Monica Almeida
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 18: A family fills out an application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), at a workshop on February 18, 2015 in New York City. The immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York holds weekly workshops to help immigrants get legal status under DACA to work in the United States. An expansion of the national program, scheduled for this week, was frozen by a ruling from a Texas federal judge. The Obama Administration plans to appeal the ruling and, if sussessful, DACA would allow legalization of up to two million immigrants who entered the United States before they were age 16. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: People attend an orientation class in filing up their application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Mitzi Pena, 19, (R) her sister Yaretzi Pena, 5, and her cousin Karina Terriquez, 20, (L) wait in line to receive assitance in filing up their application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: People attend an orientation class in filing up their application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Edgar Lopez shows his Employment Authorization Card, at home in Davenport, Florida, February 1, 2013. Edgar and his brother Javier are among the 1.7 million estimated illegal immigrants younger than 30 who were brought to the U.S. as children and are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Oscar Barrera Gonzalez along with a group of immigrants, known as DREAMers, hold flowers as they listen to a news conference to kick off a new program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Roberto Larios, 21, (R) holds Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival application as he waits in line with hundreds of fellow undocumanted immigrants at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles offices to apply for deportation reprieve on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Brenda Robles, 20, (R) holds her high school diploma as she waits in line with her friends at at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles offices to apply for deportation reprieve on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Hundreds of people line up around the block from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles offices to apply for deportation reprieve on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Undocumented UCLA students Alejandra Gutierrez (L) and Miriam Gonzales attend a workshop for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. President Barack Obama's administration announced on June 15 it would relax U.S. deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can stay in the country and work. The changes went into effect on Wednesday. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
Alan Valdivia receives assistance in filling out paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. The U.S. government began accepting applications on Wednesday from young illegal immigrants seeking temporary legal status under relaxed deportation rules announced by the Obama administration in June. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
People fill out paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. The U.S. government began accepting applications on Wednesday from young illegal immigrants seeking temporary legal status under relaxed deportation rules announced by the Obama administration in June.REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
Students wait in line for assistance with paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. The U.S. government began accepting applications on Wednesday from young illegal immigrants seeking temporary legal status under relaxed deportation rules announced by the Obama administration in June. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
Undocumented UCLA students prepare paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in Los Angeles, California, August 15, 2012. President Barack Obama's administration announced on June 15 it would relax U.S. deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can stay in the country and work. The changes went into effect on Wednesday. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)
Paulina, 26, a DACA recipient during U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, on a projection screen at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) headquarters in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. Paulina, a graduate of UCLA, arrived in the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She said the decision was really upsetting but she was going to continue to work to push members of Congress to enact a law to protect their rights. "We are not going to give up", she said. REUTERS/Monica Almeida
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Under DACA, recipients of the program must renew their status every two years, which means they must resubmit much of their paperwork and pay a fee. Because a recipient’s status expires two years after entering the program — or since their last renewal — a significant portion of immigrants covered by DACA were set to have their statuses expire sometime during the six-month period set by Trump.

“There are around 60,00 people who have resubmitted,” Vargas said. “That means there are around 100,000 people who will lose their DACAs.” 

Earlier this year, activists attempted to get the deadline pushed back in federal court. But despite admonitions from a federal judge, the Department of Homeland Security was not compelled to change the deadline and refused to do so.

Since then, most of the energy in the immigrant rights community has been directed toward helping DACA recipients renew their statuses. The Dream Act Coalition is among the groups offering free legal services and help with DACA renewal applications. Wednesday’s clinic was the Dream Act Coalition’s final legal clinic before Thursday’s deadline. 

Some DACA recipients have chosen not to renew out of fear the government might try to use the information in their applications to target them or their families once the program expires.

“They don’t want to share their most up-to-date information with immigration, they don’t want to put their parents at risk, they don’t want to put their loved ones at risk,” Vargas said, expressing both disappointment and sympathy with those who fear renewal. “It’s unfortunate… but it’s understandable as well, with Trump’s volatile personality and politics.”

RELATED: Protesters show support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

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Protesters show support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
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Protesters show support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
Yessenia Lopez stands with supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
Protesters gather to show support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
Rocio, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient shouts with supporters during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
Rocio, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient shouts with supporters during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
Demonstrators carrying signs supporting immigrants march during a rally by immigration activists CASA and United We Dream demanding the Trump administration protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) programs, in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Demonstrators supporting immigrants march during a rally by immigration activists CASA and United We Dream demanding the Trump administration protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) programs, in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Demonstrators carrying signs march during a rally by immigration activists CASA and United We Dream demanding the Trump administration protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) programs, in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Dafne Jacobs, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient stands with supporters during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES - 2017/08/30: Activists rallied in Columbus Circle and marched from there to Trump Tower in protest of President Donald Trump's possible elimination of the Obama-era 'Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals' (DACA) which curtails deportation of an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants. (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TRUMP TOWER - FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/08/15: On the fifth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the New York Immigration Coalition will join its partners and immigrant New Yorkers to demand an end to discriminatory attacks on undocumented immigrant communities. Immigration advocates rally near Trump Tower on August 15, 2017; to demand Administration uphold programs that protect 1.2 million people from deportation. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 30: Hundreds of immigration advocates and supporters attend a rally and march to Trump Tower in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program also known as DACA on August 30, 2017 in New York City. Immigrants and advocates across the country are waiting to hear President Donald Trump's decision on whether he will keep DACA which allows young people who immigrated to the U.S. as children to temporarily escape deportation and receive other benefits, started under President Barack Obama in 2012. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 30: Serafina Ha (R) of Chicago embraces Becky Belcore of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium during a demonstration in favor of immigration reform in front of the White House August 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Organized by The Franciscan Action Network, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Church World Service and Sisters of Mercy and NAKASEC, the rally began seven days of prayer and fasting to demand the Trump Administration protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protection Status (TPS). (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 30: Hundreds of immigration advocates and supporters attend a rally and march to Trump Tower in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program also known as DACA on August 30, 2017 in New York City. Immigrants and advocates across the country are waiting to hear President Donald Trump's decision on whether he will keep DACA which allows young people who immigrated to the U.S. as children to temporarily escape deportation and receive other benefits, started under President Barack Obama in 2012. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Young immigrants and supporters gather for a rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in Los Angeles, California on September 1, 2017. A decision is expected in coming days on whether US President Trump will end the program by his predecessor, former President Obama, on DACA which has protected some 800,000 undocumented immigrants, also known as Dreamers, since 2012. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Young immigrants and supporters walk holding signs during a rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in Los Angeles, California on September 1, 2017. A decision is expected in coming days on whether US President Trump will end the program by his predecessor, former President Obama, on DACA which has protected some 800,000 undocumented immigrants, also known as Dreamers, since 2012. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 5: Demonstrators hold signs outside of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building during a demonstration in response to the Trump Administration's announcement that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. DACA, an immigration policy passed by former President Barack Obama, allows certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors to receive renewable two-year deferred action from deportation and eligibility fork a work permit. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest in front of the White House after the Trump administration today scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that protects from deportation almost 800,000 young men and women who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children, in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest in front of the White House after the Trump administration today scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that protects from deportation almost 800,000 young men and women who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children, in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Rocio, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient shouts with supporters during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
A person from the group called "Make the Road" is detained while protesting in support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, U.S. September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Members of the New York City police detain people protesting in support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, U.S. September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient Alejandro Villasenor (L), from Mexico speaks speaks with other DACA recipient s during a town hall style meeting hosted by Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL 4th Dist) speaks about protecting DACA recipients in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. September 14, 2017. Picture taken September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott
Immigration activists and DACA recipients take part in a rally about the importance of passing a clean DREAM Act before delivering a million signatures to Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 10: Nevada Senate Majority Leader Aaron D. Ford (D-Las Vegas) (3rd L) joins immigrants and supporters as they march on the Las Vegas Strip during a 'We Rise for the Dream' rally to oppose U.S. President Donald Trump's order to end DACA on September 10, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects young immigrants who grew up in the U.S. after arriving with their undocumented parents from deportation to a foreign country. Trump's executive order removes protection for about 800,000 current 'dreamers,' about 13,000 of whom live in Nevada. Congress has the option to replace the policy with legislation before DACA expires on March 5, 2018. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Immigration rights activists rally during a protest and press conference before a court hearing challenging the Trump administration's termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, September 14, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. A court hearing was scheduled for this afternoon in a lawsuit brought last year on behalf of Martin Batalla Vidal, who came to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was 7 years old. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 16: Rodrigo Valencia, 3, of Waltham waves a flag as he is held by his mother Vanessa as they joined hundreds of others attending a rally in support of DACA at the Boston Common on Sep. 16, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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Other DACA recipients have been unable to reapply because of the prohibitive cost — nearly $500 per application for every renewal. Many others have faced technical issues with their applications or had previously allowed their DACA to expire before Trump’s announcement. 

“I got confused with the dates and I thought my DACA would expire at the end of the year so I would still have the chance to renew it in September,” said Edith, a former DACA recipient who declined to give her last name. Edith’s DACA expired in July, and when she went to get it renewed after Trump’s announcement in early September, she was told it was “not possible.”

“I was upset — and scared,” Edith said, recalling the moment she learned that Trump’s decision would prevent her from renewing. “I thought, many people depend on [DACA] to work, to study, to have a better life —their parents depend on them and now [Trump] will take this from them too.”

Democratic leaders are attempting to craft a legislative compromise with Trump to provide permanent protection for DACA recipients. But many immigrants’ rights activists, including members of the Dream Act Coalition, fear that Democrats will negotiate DACA protections in exchange for increases in the number of border patrol agents and other security policies that could end up hurting the immigrant community in the long run.

And a recent report suggests that Trump has promised Republicans that any eventual legislation will only protect current DACA holders, leaving people like Edith out in the cold. But activists are determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“My job is to work with Edith and work with the immigrant community to elevate their voices,” Vargas said. “To make sure they are telling their own stories and to have an opportunity for them to be at the table during this debate to ensure that she and many thousand more can be protected and actually have an opportunity for the American dream that many of them aspire to.”

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