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CUNY organizing amid DACA rollback

Renewal fee covered for many applicants

It didn’t take long for CUNY Citizenship Now! to react to the Trump administration’s September 5 announcement on eventually rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that provides temporary relief from deportation. The university-based legal assistance program has been providing citizenship and immigration law services to New Yorkers for more than 20 years, and it has assisted thousands of CUNY students and other qualified immigrants to apply for DACA ever since the start of the Obama administration program in 2012.

A dozen volunteers helped CUNY students and others who stopped by a DACA renewal clinic at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. CUNY Citizenship Now! held four DACA renewal clinics in response to the phasing out of the program.
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“We already have a system in place,” Monique Francis, deputy director of Citizenship Now! said. “If something comes up in immigration, we can quickly respond.”

RAPID RESPONSE

When news of the first travel ban came out, the group had an attorney on call to answer students’ questions. Once the rescinding of DACA was announced, Citizenship Now! reached out to CUNY students and other immigrants whom it had helped with the application. Days after the announcement it held an informative session with a question-and-answer period on Facebook Live that had 14,000 views. After the event, group members gathered the questions they received and came up with an FAQ, with a focus on the questions where there was the most confusion.

Shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the program, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum detailing the “winding down” of the program, which would terminate on March 5, 2018. On the day of the announcement, the Trump administration indicated that they would no longer accept new applications. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would process renewal applications, and if work authorization expired between the time of the announcement and March 5, 2018, DACA recipients would have until October 5, 2017, to apply for renewal. Recipients, who could previously apply to travel abroad, would no longer be able to travel abroad.

“It’s been a roller coaster of ups and downs, mostly downs,” Francis told Clarion. Ever since Trump assumed office, Francis said, the group has been reacting to news, whether it’s a travel ban on mainly Muslim-majority countries or an administrative glitch that’s causing delays in an already backlogged immigration system. “Every time you think that there’s going to be some win for immigrants, you’re just surprised by something new.”

ADMINISTRATION SUPPORT

For certain applicants the deadline for applying for renewal was October 5, 2017, a month after the Trump administration’s announcement, so Citizenship Now! quickly organized four DACA renewal clinics at different CUNY campuses. Support from the nonprofit New Economy Project paid for the $495 filing fee for qualified applicants.

On October 23 the PSC’s parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, joined the NAACP’s federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of DACA. The lawsuit claims the federal action violates constitutional rights of due process.

For its part, the CUNY administration has forcefully denounced the ending of DACA. The Board of Trustees said in a statement: “The CUNY Board of Trustees fully supports any and all efforts to block the President’s misguided actions to wind down DACA. We remain steadfastly committed to protecting and educating students in their pursuit of the American Dream, regardless of their status. The hopes and aspirations of CUNY’s DACA students cannot be rescinded, extinguished or otherwise ended by political cynicism.”

ONGOING ORGANIZING

CUNY Chancellor James Milliken said, “We are fully committed to the thousands of CUNY DACA students and will do all we can to support them. They represent some of the most talented and creative voices in the CUNY community and our city. We will do everything we can to help persuade Congress to shore up support for the DACA community, not undermine it, and CUNY will provide counseling and guidance to help our DACA students with their needs and questions.”

Faculty and students at the CUNY School of Law have also been organizing around the issue. Nermeen Arastu, a law professor and co-director of the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, told Clarion that the law school community is taking a multipronged approach toward immigration advocacy.

“Ever since the results of the election we have been planning with our impacted student body and clients to prepare for a scenario when DACA might be taken away,” Arastu told Clarion.

LEGAL REMEDIES

The school has been providing representation to those who may be placed in removal proceedings, advising on other methods for immigration relief, helping families plan in case they are separated and advocating that undocumented immigrants with expiring status have access to state and local programs.

“We knew we would have to think expansively beyond immigration relief to consider the impacts that this policy change would have on the day-to-day lives of the CUNY community and the immigrant clients we serve throughout the New York metropolitan area,” Arastu said.

On Thursday, November 2, the CUNY School of Law will hold a “know your rights” teach-in on immigrants who may be impacted by DACA’s termination. The session will be from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at the Dave Fields Auditorium at the Law School. For more information, go to tinyurl.com/immigrant-rights-teach-in or contact Nermeen Arastu at nermeen.arastu@law.cuny.edu.