Fund Assists Seattle DACA grantees As Coronavirus and Supreme Court Ruling Could Jeopardize Program

In anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on DACA, Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs recommends that DACA recipients renew their status

by Elizabeth Turnbull

On March 16, the City of Seattle announced that scholarships are available to cover renewal fees associated with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The scholarships are designed to assist DACA grantees who live, work, or study in Seattle and come at a critical time as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the constitutionality of DACA, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S as children to continue to live and work here.

Backed by financial contributions from the City of Seattle and Facebook Inc., and administered by the nonprofit housing and service provider El Centro de la Raza, the fund consists of $75,000 to help individuals who have or previously had DACA status and have completed a DACA renewal application. In the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma metropolitan area there are 7,680 DACA recipients, according to the most recent statistics.

The aid comes at an uncertain time for DACA recipients after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they will be suspending in-person services at field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers until at least April 1, according to a USCIS statement.

In reaction to this announcement, the bipartisan political organization FWD.us, called on USCIS to automatically extend all DACA applications that are set to expire in 2020, addressing concerns that the closures may have serious implications for DACA grantees, according to a statement released on March 17.

“The news that USCIS is closing its offices due to the global pandemic,” FWD.us president Todd Shulte said in the statement, “means that DACA recipients whose work authorization and deportation protections may be expiring in the next few weeks and months will no longer be able to renew their DACA, putting tens to hundreds of thousands at risk of losing their jobs and being deported.”

The City of Seattle has not yet heard anything from residents about their DACA renewals being affected by the coronavirus-related closures directly, External Affairs Manager and Policy Advisor in the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA), Joaquin Uy, told the Emerald.

Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez, Executive Assistant at El Centro de la Raza, told the Emerald that one applicant to the fund had to reschedule their interview twice due to sudden work schedule changes as a result of COVID-19.

In the meantime, the City of Seattle is monitoring how the closure of USCIS offices and the cancellation of biometrics appointments are impacting immigrants. The City of Seattle supports a nation-wide call for USCIS to automatically renew DACA permits expiring in the coming year, Uy said, also noting that The Mayor’s Office has been in communication with congressional staff and immigrant leaders.

According to Gutierrez Vasquez, El Centro staff have conducted a total of 35 appointments over video chat, and awarded checks to 20 individuals from the program, which the Seattle-based tech nonprofit sea.citi assisted in raising funds for.

“We’ve had to reschedule a few [appointments] due to participants not having their renewal paperwork ready for the interview and a few calls that did not pick up despite our best attempts to contact them,” Gutierrez Vasquez wrote in an email to the Emerald. “At this time, we have 25 appointments scheduled for next week, though I’m sure we’ll get more over the weekend.”

Coronavirus outbreak aside, 2020 marks a crucial decision-making year for those with DACA status after the Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it would stop the DACA program, according to the City of Seattle’s press release. Established by President Obama in 2012, DACA acts as temporary relief from deportation for undocumented youth who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, along with various other requirements.

In January 2018, a federal judge in California temporarily blocked Trump’s action and in November, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding whether DACA should end. A ruling is expected  to be announced in June.

Until that ruling, individuals who had been granted DACA status and remain eligible can still renew, although those who are eligible but have not been granted status in the past are now unable to apply.

The idea for the city’s scholarship program originated in 2019, when former Seattle City Councilmember Abel Pacheco proposed adding $50,000 to the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs budget as a one-time source of funds to help DACA recipients afford the $495 renewal fee, according to the City of Seattle’s press release.

After Pacheco’s term on the Council ended, he partnered with sea.citi CEO Nicholas Merriam to find a match for the City of Seattle’s investment.

“Growing up, I had both family and friends who were undocumented,” Pacheco said in the press release. “So, this is personal.”

Pacheco addressed the talents and promising nature of DACA grantees and flaws in the immigration system.

“Not just where I lived, but all over the country, incredibly talented and innovative young people want nothing more than to create the next game-changing app or find cures for today’s worst diseases,” Pacheco said. “But many are unable because our broken and outdated immigration system won’t let them. I hope this funding can serve as a stop-gap until Congress and the president pass a real solution: comprehensive immigration reform.”

For more information on the fund, visit El Centro de la Raza’s website or to schedule a virtual appointment contact Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez at (206) 957-4605 or via email at dgvasquez@elcentrodelaraza.org


Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist

Featured image: Monserrat “Monse” Padilla, Western WA Network Coordinator of the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network speaks at a Seattle rally for DACA grantees. (Image courtesy of the  City of Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs)