SAN FRANCISCO -- Luis Quiroz was on the bus heading to school when he first heard the news.
The 27-year-old DACA recipient knew the Trump administration was planning to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but he wasn’t prepared for the emotional distress.
“I was surprised when tears started gushing out of my eyes on the bus, and people looked at me like a weirdo,” said Quiroz, who spoke to reporters on a national press call hosted by New America Media and Ready California.
DACA, launched by President Obama in 2012, has protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation, while also granting them access to work permits.
For Quiroz, this meant being able to afford college. He now works at an optometrist’s office and goes to school at San Francisco State University.
With the end of DACA on Sept. 6, no new applicants will be accepted to the program, while those who already have DACA fall into two categories.
DACA recipients whose status expires in the next six months, by March 5, 2018, are able to apply for a renewal, but they must do so by the deadline of October 5. After that, no renewals will be accepted. DACA recipients whose status expires after March 5 are not able to renew at all.
Quiroz’s DACA status expires in about a year, so he falls into the group that cannot renew. Until his work permit expires, he will be protected from deportation and able to work legally.
After that, he will return to the uncertainty that defined his life before DACA.
Quiroz was born in the Mexican state of Guerrero. His parents brought him to San Diego when he was only six months old.
Like many DACA recipients, he grew up in the United States and it is the only country he knows.
But he also grew up with a familiar fear, that his family would be separated.
“Living in San Diego, I constantly feared for my parents,” he said.
When he was 15, he learned that his older brother had been detained and deported. Two years later, his mother called to tell him his father had been deported. In 2015, his mother was deported.
Still, his parents recommended that he stay in the United States, where he had opportunities that weren’t available in Mexico, and where it wasn’t as dangerous.
In March of this year, Quiroz’s brother was murdered in Mexico, where he was running a tourist business.
“He was assaulted and shot point-blank in front of his four-year-old daughter,” Quiroz said.
Quiroz won’t be able to visit his brother’s grave or meet his niece. The end of DACA means that he is no longer able to leave the country under advance parole, which had allowed DACA recipients to leave the country temporarily in certain cases.
As he looks ahead, Quiroz said he sees a “looming cloud” of uncertainty.
One of the biggest questions is with Congress. Immigrant rights advocates are pushing for Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide young immigrants who have graduated high school, are pursuing higher education, or serving in the military, a path to citizenship.
Another bill, the BRIDGE Act, would provide employment authorization and protection from deportation for individuals who currently hold and are eligible for DACA.
But whether Congress will pass legislation in the next six months that it has not been able to pass for years remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, several legal challenges were announced this week. A DACA recipient from New York, Martin Batalla Vidal, filed suit in federal court Sept. 5, represented by Make the Road New York, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School.
Another lawsuit was filed by a coalition of 16 state attorneys general on Sept. 6. Former Secretary of Homeland Security and current University of California President Janet Napolitano announced on Sept. 8 that she is also suing the Trump administration to save DACA.
Quiroz doesn’t know what will happen in Congress or in the courts.
For now, he is finding support through networks of other DACA recipients.
He is participating in a fellowship program led by San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA) that provides work opportunities and a support network for young undocumented immigrants.
His university’s Dream Resource Center holds healing circles for undocumented students to share their experiences. He is also connecting with people through rallies and social networks.
“Knowing that there are people like me who are going through the same struggles,” he said, has been crucial.
He is now starting his own business so he’ll have something in the works after he loses his work permit.
Quiroz graduates in nine months, and will have his work permit a few months after that. Then, he says, he isn’t sure what his future holds.
“At this point, I’m unsure what my future will look like,” he said. “All we want is to be accepted by the country we call home.”
Four Tips for DACA Recipients:
1. If you currently have DACA, you will continue to be protected from deportation and be able to work legally under your work permit until it expires.
2. If your DACA expires in the next six months, by March 5, 2018, you must apply to renew it by Oct. 5, 2017.
Find qualified and low-cost services in California through www.ready-california.org and nationally through www.immigrationlawhelp.org. If you can’t afford the $495 fee, loans are available through the Mission Asset Fund, Self-Help Federal Credit Union, the Mexican Consulate and local service providers.
3. Consult with an experienced immigration attorney or accredited representative to see if you qualify for another form of immigration relief.
Many DACA recipients don’t realize that they actually qualify for a more permanent form of relief, like a U-visa (for crime victims), “parole in place” (available to military personnel, those who are honorably discharged and their families), or even permanent residency (through a family member who is a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen).
4. Be careful of fraudulent service providers.
Be sure to ask to see the credentials of your legal services provider. Never sign a blank form, and always ask for a translation if you need it. Make sure to get copies of any papers filed for your case. Don’t fall for anyone who promises you a quick fix. Remember that notarios in the United States can’t give legal advice.