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Texans join nationwide day of action urging lawmakers to act on immigration

Though the DACA program is still in effect, thousands demonstrated in El Paso and elsewhere across the country to demand Congress come up with a legislative fix to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as "Dreamers."

Sister Janet Gildea of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso shows her support for DACA recipients during a rally in El Paso on March 5, 2018. Several rallies were held across the country to urge lawmakers to act on DACA, including a gathering in Washington, D.C.

EL PASO — It took a combination of luck, grit and support from the immigrant rights community for Guendi Castro to be able to rally outside a federal courthouse Monday, the day when the Obama-era immigration program known as DACA was supposedly going to end.

Two months ago, Castro, 19, wasn’t sure if her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status would be renewed after President Donald Trump announced in September that planned to end the program. The move would have given Castro and other young undocumented immigrants six months to renew their permits or face deportation proceedings.

Castro was one of just hundreds of applicants whose renewals were rejected because of a U.S. Post Office error that made them too late for processing. After seeking help from Las Americas Immigration Advocacy Center and the Mexican Consulate, she got her renewal last week after applying in October.

Despite that news, Castro and others like her greeted Monday with pragmatic caution that was just a notch below “glass half-full” optimism. Two separate federal court orders have ruled the administration must continue accepting renewals for the two-year DACA permits.

But that’s not enough to ease concerns that the program is 100 percent protected.

“On one hand, I feel relief, but that feeling that it’s temporary is still there,” Castro said Monday. “Yes, [the court rulings] help a little, but after two years, what happens?”

When Trump announced the end of the DACA program, which included about 124,000 Texas beneficiaries as of September, he asked Congress to figure out a legislative solution. But last month, the U.S. Senate rejected four separate proposals that would have codified the protections included in DACA while bolstering border security.

El Paso-based immigration attorney Carlos Spector said that means the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could have the final say about the program’s fate if lawmakers can’t move forward.

The appeals court could rule on the lower court’s decision quickly and deny it, he said. “And then everybody would be without status.”

From there, it would likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court, Spector said.

“It could be at least a year,” he said.

Aside from finger-pointing between Trump and Congress — and within Congress between Republicans and Democrats – about who is responsible for the inaction, there hasn’t been a lot of discussion on whether lawmakers can regroup on the issue soon. Lawmakers have also shifted their attention since then on gun control and trade tariffs.

That’s why many immigrants and immigration advocates say it is up to them to keep the attention on "Dreamers" front and center. Outside of El Paso, several rallies were held across the country to urge lawmakers to act on DACA, including a gathering in Washington, D.C.

The American Civil Liberties Union launched a six-figure ad campaign this week that it said speaks directly to Trump and congressional Republicans and demands they “fix the crisis.”

“With this campaign, White House and Congressional staffers will not be able to avoid the pressure,” the ACLU said in a statement.

But lobbying against a permanent DACA fix or the Dream Act could be just as fierce from groups that want to limit all immigration.

On its website, the Federation for American Immigration Reform tells readers about the “myths” of DACA.

“The DACA program was illegal. But it was also bad from a long-term policy perspective,” the site states. “Rewarding people who violate our laws only encourages more people to become lawbreakers. Accordingly, President Trump’s decision to cancel the program is a welcome one.”

Whatever course lawmakers or the courts take, the clock is still ticking for thousands of DACA recipients whose renewals have yet to be accepted, according to Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

“For tens of thousands of DACA recipients whose status expires in the coming months, given the time lag between renewal application and a decision by [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services], it is likely that many will lose their work authorization, get fired from their jobs and be at risk for deportation, at least for a period of time,” he wrote in his daily newsletter. “So let’s stay the course and work towards a permanent solution.”

As it all plays out, people like Castro are pushing forward while their future remains in limbo. With a renewal in hand, she can try to find another job after leaving her old one after her previous permit expired.

“I couldn’t pay off school or help my parents, so I had to drop out,” she said. “But now that I am going to start working, I am going to get back in school. I have an interview at a day care, so hopefully I’ll get to work there.”

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