With the US Supreme Court bound to issue a decision in the DACA case any day between now and late June, it’s more important than ever for DACA recipients to make plans for various scenarios. With a conservative majority on the court, it is quite possible that the court will vote to approve Trump’s plan to kick more than 800,000 people out of the country during the COVID-19 crisis. This isn’t the country we want, is it? Trying to deport a huge number of people during a public health crisis, many of them who are working in healthcare to save patients, or are providing essential services to millions of Americans during a quarantine, would be the cruelest outcome. Now is the time for the Court to do something humane and fair rather than what is politically expedient.
Will the Court do the right thing to prevent family separation, and protect vulnerable communities? We just don’t know; but, if you are a DACA recipient, there are things YOU can control and do right now – like, TODAY:
- RENEW your DACA
- Get legal advice
- Make back-up plans
- Protect your family and finances/assets
- Save money
While nobody knows what the Supreme Court will do, planning for a few scenarios is important on the question of whether Trump properly ended the program.
- The Court could decide Trump improperly ended the program and could send the case back for new and better reasoning – but eventually, the case could end up back at the Supreme Court. This would just delay things, but can bring temporary relief to DACA holders – for now.
- The Court could decide Trump properly ended DACA or that the Court has no authority to decide the case, leaving termination of the program in place. However, we may not know right away just how Trump will officially end DACA status.
- The Court could decide Trump improperly terminated the program – end of story. This would be a great outcome! Even with this outcome, it is no excuse not to find out about all of your options because DACA is not a visa, green card or citizenship.
No matter the outcome, DACA holders should keep filing for renewals NOW, even if your current DACA expires later this year or next year. Having a case already in the system will, hopefully, extend your status longer. In addition, get legal advice and make back up plans NOW.
THREE GROUPS OF DACA RECIPIENTS – WHAT YOU SHOULD DO NOW
In my experience as an immigration lawyer handling DACA cases over the years, there are currently three broad groups of DACA recipients with different needs and possible outcomes.
- Anyone with a prior removal order. This group will likely suffer the soonest impact, as ICE will want to carry out the removal order once DACA status terminates. It is very difficult, although not impossible, to get back into court for a different outcome. This group should consult trusted immigration attorneys who have removal experience right NOW to determine your options. You will definitely want to make a safety plan for you and your family and make a plan about your assets and finances. You should make a plan for future care for your children or elderly parents, and you will want to build a fund for legal services and other practicalities. If you are not sure whether there was a prior removal order, you should call the Immigration Court automated line (1800-898-7180) with your A# or check online here. (Note, the A# or USCIS# on your DACA EAD may not be the same A# in court.) You may also need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get a copy of your file. These take time, but a lawyer can help you see your court file as soon as possible. No matter what, you will need to act quickly, so please, get that advice from an attorney NOW.
- Anyone who was previously in removal proceedings, and not ordered deported, but whose case was “administratively closed.” This means the court took the case off its docket (calendar) when you obtained DACA. However, the court still has jurisdiction over the case, and we think if DACA ends, ICE attorneys will likely move the courts to reopen these cases. You should get legal advice NOW from a reputable removal attorney to determine if you qualify for “relief from removal.” You might need to file a FOIA request. A judge can approve applications for immigration benefits (relief from removal). If your case is re-calendared, first, you will have one or more “Master Calendar” hearings to plea to immigration charges (admit or deny), and to let the judge know for what relief you want to apply. Eventually, you will have an “Individual Hearing,” which is like a trial (without a jury). In these hearings, you present evidence of your qualifications for the benefit(s) you are seeking. You can present witnesses, cross-examine government witnesses, make arguments, etc. Then, the judge will decide the case. If granted, you may end up with a green card or some other status after all!
- DACA recipients without final removal orders who have never been in immigration court. Trump could decide that ICE will send this group “notices to appear” (NTAs) that start removal proceedings. Like group 2, you should also consult with legal counsel NOW to determine whether you have other immigration options that can be filed with USCIS, or relief options if you end up in removal proceedings.
One thing to keep in mind, at least with groups 2 and 3, is that there are at least a million cases backlogged in the immigration courts. It can take years to complete a case. This means if you have relief available, it could be quite some time until there is an outcome, giving you more time to build up equities or qualify for other relief later; but that is no reason not to prepare now. In addition, just because you have a case in court does not mean that it’s an entirely bad thing if you have a good case for relief from removal.
There are lots of immigration routes to legal status that you may have not heard about or explored: family-based immigration, employment or business-based immigration, status for victims of crimes or forced labor or sex trafficking, lots of country-specific programs, some self-filing programs for widows(ers), victims of domestic abuse, important national work or reputation in your field, asylum or withholding of deportation, waivers of various types, and more. You might need to have some important discussions with your parents or other relatives about how, when and where you came to America when you were a kid. Maybe a family member sponsored your parents at one point and you were included in the application. You need to have these discussions with your families NOW and to sort through their paperwork. This will be important for your discussions with your attorney. No matter what, please, please, do your research NOW and prepare. Don’t wait until the last minute when you will be stressed out.
RESOURCES FOR SUPPORT
Where can you find help? Luckily, OneAmerica, along with allied organizations, has developed a DACA resource package right here. Shortly, the American Immigration Lawyers (AILA) Washington Chapter, in partnership with the City of Seattle and King County Bar Association, will begin free consultation clinics. Stay tuned for details about this program, which will post on the OneAmerica resources site above. In the meantime, you can always find an AILA lawyer at www.ailalawyer.com.
The most important thing you can do NOW is take action with what you CAN control: file renewals NOW, get legal advice NOW, make back-up plans NOW, protect your family NOW, and save money NOW, if you can.
Crossing my fingers for a favorable outcome,