Central Pa. teen hopes to be among the first new DACA recipients

Program’s status remains unclear despite federal court rulings; immigration agency says some applications have already been rejected

  • Anthony Orozco

Photo by Harrison Jones.

Arlette Morales helped was an organizer of a recent Black Lives Matter march in York, Pa. (Photo by Harrison Jones.)

An undocumented Pennsylvania teenager may be one of the first people to find out if the federal government is admitting new recipients into a program that protects some young people from deportation.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the government agency that oversees the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, said Tuesday it has already rejected applications from some applicants.

“Initial DACA requests rejected after June 19 were rejected due to their being incomplete, most commonly due to a lack of signature, missing or incomplete form pages, or an incorrect fee, which are all standard causes for an application’s rejection,” USCIS officials said. “Recently, DACA initial rejection notices did not provide the specific standard reason(s) for rejection. USCIS is working to correct future notices.”

But the agency provided no other details about how applications are being reviewed and processed in the wake of a June U.S Supreme Court ruling that found the Trump administration erred in how it moved to end DACA, and a subsequent order by U.S. District Court Judge Paul W. Grimm that USCIS should resume accepting DACA applications.

“The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are reviewing the courts’ decisions,” USCIS said in response to questions about whether the agency is taking action to meet the terms of Judge Grimm’s order. “USCIS has no further comment at this time.”

Arlette Morales, of York, said she is nervous about whether her application will be accepted, let alone whether the agency is actively reviewing it.

“Everything is really unpredictable,” the 17-year-old Logos Academy senior said. “This is the foundation for my [higher] education, for my life here, but I’m really hopeful.”

Morales currently works in food service but says her goal is to attend college to study criminal justice and perhaps psychology, though she is still uncertain what career she wants to pursue. She made news in York last month as an organizer of a Black Lives Matter march that reportedly drew around 1,500 people.

Arlette Morales

Morales at a school dance. Arlette is one of two DACA applicants assisted by CASA de Maryland. A federal court case CASA is involved caused a federal judge to order DACA reinstated. (Photo by Arlette Morales)

Morales, who was brought to the United States by her parents from Mexico as a child, is one of an estimated 66,000 undocumented immigrants across the nation who may be eligible for DACA protection. Morales sent her application to USCIS earlier this month with the help of staff from the immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland.

CASA de Maryland was the lead plaintiff in the court case against the Department of Homeland that led to Grimm’s ruling last week that DHS should resume processing DACA applications.

Attorney Nicholas Katz said his team at CASA is waiting to see if the federal government will comply with the order. Morales’s application is one of the first two that CASA helped submit since the Supreme Court’s June ruling.

CASA received confirmation that Morales’s application was delivered to USCIS on July 3, but so far the department has yet to acknowledge receipt or confirm that the application is under review, according to Katz.

USCIS officials on Tuesday would not comment on the status of Morales’s application.

Sundrop Carter, executive director of Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, said USCIS has yet to issue any public statement or updated directions in regards to the reopening of the DACA program to new applicants. Some immigrant advocacy groups see this as a bad sign for applicants, she said.

John Leedock, executive director of Compass Immigration Legal Services in Harrisburg, said his organization is encouraging people to prepare their DACA paperwork but to hold off on sending it in until the USCIS provides more information.

A spokesperson with the Community Justice Project in Reading said the office is seeing an increase in calls about DACA in the weeks since the Supreme Court ruling, but for now the organization is counseling callers to wait for more information from USCIS.

“We have not seen any updates on DACA on the USCIS website so we are assuming the situation has not changed with that,” the spokesperson said. “We are asking [applicants] to call back in three weeks, when we know more.”

There is no announcement about last week’s DACA ruling on USCIS’s front page, in its press releases or on a page with all of the necessary forms for new applicants.

The only information about new DACA applications appears on an archived page about DACA renewals, which warns that information may be out of date. That page then links to a press release from last year.

Another immigrant rights group, Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania, is currently encouraging DACA-eligible people to hold off on submitting thier paperwork, according to spokesperson Gabriela Castañeda.

Castañeda said some organizations across the nation are asking people to submit their applications. Having a papertrail of denied or rejected applications could help immigrant advocates pursue class action lawsuits against the federal government for not fully reinstating DACA, she said.

Katz said he believes a lawsuit is not yet necessary and that Grimm’s order should be able to stand on its own.

“We’re fighting this now, our judge issued an order and we will see if the government follows the rule of law or ignores the courts,” Katz said.

Morales said she is trying her best to stay positive, though she does not believe President Trump’s recent comments about creating a pathway to citizenship for people like her.

For now, Morales said she is left with a feeling of uncertainty that she has dealt with since the Trump administration tried to end DACA in 2017.

“It’s really hard because it’s frustrating one day for everything to be okay and for the next day again, my life is on the edge and I don’t know what the future will look like,” Morales said. “I try to not pay much attention to the news and I try not to feed into the negative part and I’m praying something good will come out of this.”

Editor’s note: The article was updated to reflect MILPA’s stance on submitting DACA applications.

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