Lawyers in a federal lawsuit challenging the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program want to include problems encountered by enrollees in meeting the application renewal deadline in their complaint, staff attorney Joshua Rosenthal said after a hearing in Brooklyn Federal District Court on Thursday.
“It’s been revealed over the past week or so that a number of people were unable to meet the Oct. 5 deadline for reasons that were out of their control, and their applications were unfairly rejected,” said Rosenthal, a lawyer for National Immigration Law Center, which is one of the three plaintiffs in the case.
On Sept. 5, President Donald Trump gave Congress a March 5 deadline to create legislation to replace DACA, an Obama-era executive order that allows individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay in the country so long as they meet certain requirements. Those who were already enrolled in DACA and were up for renewal before March 5 were allowed to do so and given a month to file their paperwork.
But many applications failed to reach the three U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services intake locations -- Chicago, Phoenix and Lewisville, Texas -- due to United States Postal Service delays, according to USCIS. The New York Times reported more than 100 applications were affected by the mailing delays.
Varlene Cooper, a DACA recipient who came to the country when she was 11, said her application had arrived at the intake location on time. However, she said it wasn’t picked up by USCIS until Oct. 6, which led to a rejection.
“We came out of hiding. We did background checks. It was hard to come up with $500 [for the application], but we did. And basically you’re telling us, ‘Oh, your application came in too late,’ ” she said while standing outside of the courthouse after the hearing. “It’s like a slap in the face.”
Initially, USCIS refused to take the USPS error into account, adhering to the initial deadline and upholding the rejections. On Wednesday, however, it reversed the decision and agreed to accept those applications.
The Department of Homeland Security’s acting director, Elaine C. Duke, told USCIS that those who can provide individualized proof that their application was sent in “a timely manner” should be reconsidered.
As of Oct. 18, more than 4,000 renewal applications have been rejected because they reached offices after the deadline, a USCIS officer said in a deposition. Whether all 4,000 rejections were part of the USPS error remains to be determined.
“So, take all 4,000 of them and really look at them,” Cooper said. “Don’t just say only a few didn’t come on time. All of them.”
In Brooklyn on Thursday, the three plaintiffs -- NILC, Make the Road-New York and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic -- appealed to expand their lawsuit to include such delivery issues in front of Judge Nicholas Garaufis.
Rosenthal said Garaufis told the plaintiffs to cooperate with the government, look for solutions with officials and “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
If a solution cannot be agreed upon between the advocates and the government to fairly consider renewal applications, the plaintiffs will be able to amend their complaint by Jan. 5, Rosenthal added.
“We are hopeful that the government will create a meaningful opportunity for the people whose applications were unjustly rejected,” Rosenthal said. “But we are also prepared to move forward if those conversations don’t work out, to make sure we can get some relief for all those folks.”