With DACA on shaky ground, Bay Area orgs provide support to immigrant students

The East Bay Sanctuary Covenant is one of the organizations that helps immigrant students.

In 2012, former President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The policy was created to help immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors and currently need citizenship documents.

People who have DACA can receive two-year renewable work permits to stay in the U.S. The program also gives applicants the right to go to school and receive a degree and to apply for “advance parole” or permission to travel, which allows applicants to leave the U.S. and return lawfully. Since its inception, more than 800,000 young immigrants have been able to stay in the U.S.

But the status of DACA is on shaky ground. In 2022, the Biden administration published a “final rule,” codifying DACA into federal immigration regulations. 

However, litigation from the state of Texas has put a hold on the program – DACA is not open for new applicants as officials await a court decision about whether the federal DACA rule is lawful, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

That decision is still pending, and it could go to a higher court.

Until then, the program’s fate is uncertain, but Bay Area lawyers and advocates are committed to helping immigrants navigate the laws and gather information.

California has been home to the nation’s most significant concentration of immigrants. Since European explorers first arrived in the area during the 17th century, California has been experiencing a substantial influx of immigrants. Today, immigrants comprise more than a quarter of the state’s population and are a significant portion of its labor force. 

As of March 2020, almost 183,000 individuals lived in California as part of the DACA program. In total, more than 238,432 people have been granted the program since it started in 2012.

Nonprofits have played a significant role in helping applicants apply and renew their applications every two years. 

It is estimated that around 40 nonprofits are helping undocumented immigrants yearly with different issues in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

The East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and the Immigrant Institute of the Bay Area are well-known organizations specializing in DACA applications. 

According to office coordinator Nadya Alexandra Mendoza, the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant is one of the programs in the Bay Area that helps undocumented students every year to renew their DACA application and other services. Catherine Seitz from the Immigrant Institute of the Bay Area stated that they usually provide the services for free due to their California funding and continue to have the budget this year. They also help to pay the immigration department filing fees for those in need. 

Mendoza also said that they have seven offices throughout the Bay Area (San Francisco, Napa, Petaluma, Oakland, Fremont, Brentwood, and Redwood City) and that the organization provide services on-site at several community colleges (City College of San Francisco, College of San Mateo, Foothill College, Los Medanos College, and Diablo Valley College).  

The program doesn’t currently have drop-in hours, but people can make an appointment by calling one of their offices or self-scheduling online. The information about how to make an appointment can be found on their website.

Before the existence of this program, AB 540 students were not allowed to receive a college degree, and in cases when they were allowed to receive one, they couldn’t do anything with it, due to not being able to work in the country.

A study conducted by Metropolitan Policy Program states that the top five countries of original immigrants of DACA are Mexico with 77%, El Salvador with 4%, followed by Guatemala and Honduras with 3% each, and South Korea with 1%.

“DACA opened so many doors for me, said Perla Rodriguez. “As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a nurse, but as I got older, the dream started fainting away. Not having a work permit and social security prevented me from working as a nurse, and I had no motivation to go to school. After graduating high school, I worked in many places under the table. The moment DACA was announced, hope resurfaced. I enrolled in a community college, graduated, and transferred to a four-year institution. I became a nurse in 2017, and I have been able to help so many people ever since,”. 

At this moment, it is uncertain what will happen with the program, which can be scary for many people. What gives hope to those that benefit from the program is that every day nonprofits and lawmakers around the country continue fighting to establish the program and even make it better.