A judge ordered the US to accept new DACA applications. It's unclear if the Trump administration will
Posted July 21, 2020 1:30 p.m. EDT
CNN — Arlette Morales sent in her DACA application weeks ago. Every day the 17-year-old races to check the mail to see if she's gotten a response.
"I have a lot of hope that they'll accept it ... but I also have to be careful, because they might not," she says. "It's really hard. It's really unpredictable."
Before the Trump administration put the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on the chopping block in 2017, hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants were eligible for deportation protection and work permits but hadn't yet applied -- or, like Morales, weren't yet old enough to qualify. Now, thanks to recent court rulings, they may have the chance.
But even though judges keep ruling in their favor, they're facing a major unanswered question: Will the Trump administration accept the applications they're starting to send?
Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say officials have no other choice.
They point to last month's Supreme Court decision, which blocked the administration's efforts to end DACA, and to a federal judge's ruling Friday, which ordered that the Obama-era program must be restored to its "pre-September 5, 2017 status."
"It's clear from that and from the Supreme Court decision itself that they need to process these applications," said Aaron Hall, an immigration lawyer in Denver.
But US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the part of the Department of Homeland Security that administers DACA, says it's reviewing the court decision. Officials at the agency haven't responded to questions about whether they're accepting new applications.
Last month, USCIS issued a blistering statement slamming the Supreme Court's ruling and saying it "has no basis in law." And since the ruling, President Donald Trump and senior administration officials have indicated they plan to try to phase out the program again.
In a federal court filing in New York Tuesday, attorneys representing several DACA recipients who sued the Trump administration accused the government of refusing to process new applications.
"Plaintiffs are concerned that Defendants are ignoring the Supreme Court's unambiguous decision and their legal obligations," the lawyers wrote.
She got a rejection letter soon after the Supreme Court ruling
Without clear guidance from the government, immigration attorneys have taken to social media to compare notes.
Tamara French, an immigration lawyer in Detroit, shared a screen shot in a Facebook group earlier this month showing a rejection notice she received after the Supreme Court ruling. The notice, dated July 3, states that USCIS "is no longer accepting initial requests...from individuals who have never been granted deferred action under DACA." The image circulated swiftly online as lawyers tried to piece together how officials were handling new DACA applications.
"I knew it was a very important document. ... It was proof positive that this administration is willing to ignore the Supreme Court," French says. "If they continue to deny these, it's the President saying he won't follow the Supreme Court decision because he doesn't agree with it, and that's a constitutional crisis."
In a statement, USCIS said the agency rejected applications because they were incomplete.
"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," the agency said. "Recently, DACA initial rejection notices did not provide the specific standard reason(s) for rejection. USCIS is working to correct future notices."
French said that explanation doesn't add up, given the wording of the rejection she received.
A number of immigration attorneys told CNN they've filed new applications with the government but haven't heard back. And at least one attorney has shared reports online that fees for some new DACA applications are being deducted -- a possible sign that the applications are being processed.
"I'm hoping that the government will do the right thing and will start adjudicating those applications the way they adjudicated them before, but we'll see," said Nicolette Glazer, an immigration attorney in California who posted recently about fees being deducted for several DACA applications she filed.
She's waiting for word from the government before she applies
One 18-year-old in Maryland told CNN she wants to apply for DACA. But she's waiting for an official statement from the government saying they're accepting applications because she's afraid of putting her family at risk.
"It's really frustrating when the Supreme Court said something, and they're not really upholding that. ... I know some people have submitted applications. And I read reports that they're rejecting them, which I think is just unbelievable," said the teen, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Andrea. "When you hear stuff like that, you kind of sit back and wait, because you don't want to put yourself out there."
Andrea was born in El Salvador and moved to the US when she was 5 years old. She said recent court rulings have given her hope, but with so many mixed messages about DACA from officials, including Trump, it's hard to know what to believe.
"I'm optimistic in the sense that there are courts and there are states that I know are going to fight the fight. ... I do feel optimistic in the fact that we're going to have support," she said. "But as far as this administration goes, I don't really have much trust or hope in them."