The announcement this month that DACA may be phased out has kicked off a mad dash for thousands of immigrants to renew their permits. They have until Oct. 5 to file the paperwork. A renewal would buy them two extra years if the program comes to an end. But first, they need to come up with the $495 for the application fee.
Arturo Prieto is one of the estimated 1,700 Tennesseans whose permit expires before March 5, 2018. When the end of DACA was announced, the Justice Department granted those applicants just one month to renew.
“It was kind of like a panic mode for me and my family,” Prieto says. “It was a desperate situation.”
Prieto is a junior at Trevecca Nazarene University studying business. He takes eight classes per semester. A full-time course load normally consists of five. That is difficult enough, except that he must also find time to work to keep up his tuition payments. Even Prieto’s four scholarships don’t cover all of it, so he worked out a payment plan for the remaining balance. Every month, he pays $450 which he earns by working construction on the weekends.
“It definitely affects your school work,” Prieto says about hearing that he'd have to come up with the funds in just one month. “I consider myself a strong individual but at that point I felt really weak. I felt everything I’ve done might have been for nothing.”
But Prieto has just heard about some new options. The Mexican Consulate is sponsoring some applications. He’s also looking to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition in case that doesn’t work out. The organization says it has been working around the clock not just to educate families about the deadline but to connect students like Prieto with opportunities across the country while securing a pool of funding.
In California, the Mission Asset Fund has set up a million-dollar scholarship reserve. Though half of the money is earmarked for in-state beneficiaries, the remaining half is fair game to applicants from all over the country. Still, that only covers about 2,000 renewals.
In some states, borrowing is also a possibility. But getting approved for a personal loan is uniquely challenging for DACA beneficiaries. Banks typically require applicants to have established credit and steady employment. If not, collateral or a co-signer may be needed. But many DACA students are the first in their families with a Social Security number, which they haven’t had for very long, and often simply don’t have anyone to turn to for help.
Yuri Cunza is the President of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He says most Americans could just walk into a bank and ask for the money. But it's a lot harder "for someone who just got here with absolutely no way to meet the criteria established by financial institutions in order to give you credit. "
To counter some of those difficulties, community banks in some states have set up special no-interest DACA loans that require no credit history. The New Economy Project in New York City has helped hundreds of New Yorkers who qualify for DACA with special loans and even grants to cover DACA application and renewal fees since 2012. The institution works with local immigrant advocate groups and legal clinics to get matched with students who could apply but need help finding the money.
There are no such programs in Tennessee.
Local advocates are concerned young people may turn to payday or title loans, which can charge as much as 400% in interest. But many are using the internet to find help. Through crowd funding some groups have raised upwards of $50,000 dollars to distribute. Hundreds of pleas from individuals have also popped up.
Dayana Parker’s GoFundMe page hasn’t taken off. The 20-year-old has lived in Lexington, Tenn., since she arrived from Mexico with her parents when she was just six years old. Her DACA permit is going to expire, but she’s married to an American citizen and is motivated by the deadline to try for legal residency. Parker works as a sales associate at a cell phone store in Jackson and so far hasn't been able to save enough money to start the process.
"Right now I’m trying to get as many hours that I can at work," she says. "I've thought about maybe babysitting too." But she works full-time and has a two-year-old son at home, so she's hoping the internet will at least help her get closer to her goal.
There have been mixed signals from the White House as to whether DACA will actually come to an end. But even beneficiaries struggling to get the money in time, say they can’t afford to wait and see.