Sergio Ramirez made sure he did not miss a crucial deadline on Thursday.
As an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was 9, Ramirez is legally protected from deportation by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. But after the Trump administration announced last month that it would wind down the program, that deadline was the last chance for DACA recipients to apply for, or renew, those protections if they expired in the next five months.
The decision jolted about 800,000 DACA recipients across the country, including about 8,000 in Connecticut, though Trump put pressure on Congress to save the program.
“I’m a little concerned that some people are afraid to file for renewal because their information might be used later,” said Ramirez, now an organizer with the New Haven group JUNTA that aims to empower the Latino and low-income community. “You should be as protected as possible. If that’s the only protection we have right now then don’t lose that protection.”
Ramirez, a former intern for U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, gathered with DeLauro, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system president Mark Ojakian, and others at Gateway Community College in New Haven on Friday to support extending the renewal deadline and putting in place a permanent path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
In the final days before the deadline, more than 20 percent of DACA recipients nationwide — some 34,000 people — had not submitted the paperwork to renew their permits, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told the Los Angeles Times. Some advocates say that may be a result of fear of the Trump administration’s intentions or of the disruptions to daily life in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean after hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria tore through the region. Applicants had to produce specific paperwork and pay a $495 fee. DeLauro is one of a chorus of advocates who want the deadline to be extended or a grace period instituted.
“So many of us are livid that this deadline even exists and that your [DACA recipients’] future has been placed in jeopardy,” she said. “It’s about breaking a promise. It really is a betrayal.”
“When the president was talking about this issue, he said he was going to deal with this issue with his heart,” Ojakian said. “Where’s the heart in what he did? … Mr. President, these are people’s lives.”
Ojakian said the system has 116 students who came from other states that do not allow undocumented immigrants to attend public institutions of higher education.
DeLauro and other congressmen have expressed concerns that the divided legislative body could come to agreement on this, though she committed to “look at a package that comes forward. I don’t have the luxury to just say my way or the highway. I’m not going to watch the DACA program be ended,” she said.
The White House is expected to send guidelines to Congress soon for what it wants to see in legislation. An immigration task force of House Republicans formed by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has been meeting almost daily to assess options that could win majority support.
DeLauro said there is a group of 200 bipartisan legislators willing to bring one of the bills potentially replacing DACA to the House floor, but they need 18 more members’ support to complete the procedural maneuver.
Russell Blair contributed to this story, which includes a report from the Los Angeles Times.