DACA renewal deadline looms for thousands in NJ

Isaac Oppong and Emill Coto-Calderon are building their lives in New Jersey. Both were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and both are DACA recipients.

“I just received my DACA this February, this year,” said Oppong. “So it’s just new, I just got it. And fortunately, I just started working and it came to this point. It’s kind of stressful to me.”

Stressful because President Trump recently announced the program is cancelled. DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It started in 2012 under President Obama. It enables young, unauthorized immigrants to apply for a work permit, renewable every two years. Under the new rules, only recipients whose permits expire within a certain time frame are eligible to re-apply.

“If their DACA expires between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018, they are eligible to renew and that needs to be submitted by Oct. 5,” said American Friends Service Committee staff attorney Shannon McKinnon.

Meaning anyone who falls outside that timeline is out of luck. And that has put legal service organizations on overdrive answering calls from concerned DACA holders and helping them navigate the lengthy, nearly $500 application in time for the deadline.

“Anyone who has called us who wants to renew and is expiring within that time period, we’ve tried to help as many people as we can,” said McKinnon.

“I’m a student and I’m working at the same time to try to feed my family, put food on the table. I have two kids, so DACA came to help me a lot. DACA is my life,” said Oppong.

The 29-year-old Ghana native is one of about 22,000 DACA recipients in New Jersey. He just secured a job with HelloFresh, a meal kit delivery service. And although his status is safe until 2019, he’s worried about being torn away from his young family.

Coto-Calderon is worried being sent back to Honduras will prevent him from starting one.

“I would leave my job, my friends and my family here,” Coto-Calderon said.

The 19-year-old is studying to be an engineer and works part-time at an architecture firm. He and his older sister just renewed their DACA applications, barely squeaking by the new changes.

“If I’m honest, I didn’t really see myself anywhere that would have been outside of construction or manual labor or very low wage jobs. And until DACA I didn’t realize I could go to a four-year school, I could get a degree, I could start my own family and I can live in a way that no undocumented immigrant had before,” said Coto-Calderon.

Applications need to be in overnight mail by Tuesday night Oct. 4, the latest, to meet the deadline. Advocates say recipients should meet with reputable legal service organizations to figure out their next step.