The narratives of immigrants living in the United States are characterized by change. Our democratic government heavily influences our society (and vice versa), so fluctuations in public policy often cause a reaction through public opinions (and again, vice versa). Likewise, the election process brings different individuals with various political positions into power, and those individuals set the tone for how immigrants and asylees will be treated for several years. One of the key issues concerning immigration revolves around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which (since 2012) grants some immigrants, who were brought into the U.S. as children (among other required criteria), a renewable two-year period of “deferral” from deportation as well as eligibility for a U.S. work permit.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have applied for, and continue to renew their DACA status, including over 350 Just Neighbors clients. One recent Just Neighbors client named Mario successfully renewed his DACA status allowing him to continue working and going to school in the place he has grown up. Mario first came to Virginia from Argentina when he was five years old. His parents brought Mario in the hopes of providing him with better opportunities for his future. He first came to Just Neighbors for his initial DACA application, and has since returned here to renew it, describing the office as a safe place where everybody cares about him and his situation. What’s more, he says, “My mom is usually afraid around lawyers and police but she’s comfortable here.”
Last month, Mario came in and worked with a volunteer to fill out his renewal paperwork, having brought necessary materials (previous work permits, passport photos, etc.) with him. The renewal process was relatively swift for him; however, it takes preparation and can be expensive. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) charges a $495 fee for renewal, and most private attorneys charge around $350 for their services. Just Neighbors keeps its rate at $100, but thanks to generous donations, we can waive our fee for low-income and vulnerable clients. Immigrants must keep abreast of developments in national immigration policy, especially in regards to DACA, as it has survived up to now thanks to a court order. Many current and previous clients call in to Just Neighbors with questions about immigration policy; contradictory information is passed around in the media, and word-of-mouth alone cannot be relied on. The individuals who call Just Neighbors depend on the information we are able to provide, as the fluctuations can endanger their livelihood.
As for Mario, thanks to his DACA status, he graduated from the Career Technical Institute and is now working part-time. He plans to study nursing at NOVA and would like to one day become a doctor. He is also part of a particularly generous Just Neighbors group of clients who donate to the organization, allowing us to help others in circumstances similar to Mario’s in order to renew their dreams of better opportunities.