Hundreds of undocumented immigrants who were granted the ability to work under a 2012 executive action are being forced to quit their jobs as the federal government fails to renew their work authorization applications on time.
In early August, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — the federal agency that handles work authorization for undocumented immigrants who qualify for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative — announced that immigrants may experience delays that prevent them from receiving renewed work authorization cards before they expire.
The delays will affect people who sent in their renewal applications between February 14 and May 14, 2016. In an email to ThinkProgress, a USCIS spokesperson blamed “technical issues” for preventing roughly 500 immigrants from renewing their DACA applications during this time period.
The agency has since resumed processing renewal applications — but it did not issue temporary extensions. That means applicants may experience a lapse between renewals during which they’re unable to legally work in the United States.
“If an individual’s previous period of DACA expires before receiving a renewal, the individual is not authorized to work before receiving a new employment authorization document from USCIS,” the agency spokesperson confirmed.
Gabriel, a 34-year-old engineer working at a telecommunications company in California’s Silicon Valley, had to take a leave of absence from his job after his new employment authorization card failed to arrive on time.
Gabriel, who requested that his last name be withheld, was working under a card that expired on September 4. Heeding USCIS’ advice to apply for a renewal between 120 and 150 days of the card’s expiration date, he submitted his application back in April. Despite going into an agency field office for a biometrics appointment to get his fingerprints taken in May, and subsequently receiving letters saying that his renewed DACA status had been approved, Gabriel’s work authorization card still has not arrived.
“At risk are my job and my health coverage.”
“I have no guarantee from USCIS on how long this process is going to continue to take,” Gabriel told ThinkProgress in a phone interview before his current card expired. “At risk are my job and my health coverage.”
“I would understand if it was through my own mistake, but I followed directions to the dot, so it’s very discouraging,” he added.
Gabriel, who is the main provider for his parents and his young son, is worried he may be unable to pay the mortgage for their house and the loans for his car if the process drags on too long.
Cintia, a 31-year-old DACA recipient who works in the medical field, also submitted her application for a renewed employment authorization card within the timeframe suggested by the USCIS. She went in for a biometrics appointment in May. Then, radio silence.
Cintia eventually received her renewed work authorization card mere days before her old card was set to expire — but only after she spent a month practicing a speech to her employers about quitting her job, and worrying that she wouldn’t get re-hired once her immigration status became public.
“They hired me without knowing my immigration status — like whether I had a work permit or not,” Cintia told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. “So instead of focusing on what I can do as an employee, it’s being shifted in a negative direction. Now they’re thinking ‘is this person a liability for us?’”
Immigrant advocacy groups are worried that Gabriel and Cintia’s experiences are becoming increasingly common.
The vast majority of immigrants “filed for their DACA renewal on a timely basis but have experienced delays in the processing of the application,” Shiu-Ming Cheer, a senior staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, told ThinkProgress in an email. And now they’re worried. Cheer’s organization has received inquiries from more than 90 DACA renewal applicants waiting on their new employment authorization cards. United We Dream, another immigrant rights group, told ThinkProgress it’s fielded calls from at least 60 concerned DACA applicants in the same situation.
“People have been placed on unpaid leave or lost their jobs when this happened.”
“People have been placed on unpaid leave or lost their jobs when this happened,” Cheer said. “This has caused a high level of stress and hardship as they are no longer able to pay for basic living expenses such as rent, utilities, and car payments.”
With no movement on federal legislation to help make policy changes to the country’s current immigration system, the DACA initiative has been the Obama administration’s crowning jewel on immigration reform during his presidency. But even though the USCIS agency has worked to improve its process since the initiative’s inception in 2012, a similar issue cropped up last year when thousands of DACA recipients came close to losing their work permits, even though they had applied in time.
The USCIS spokesperson pointed out that the lapse “does not by itself make a person an enforcement priority” for deportation, one of the hallmark conditions of the DACA initiative.
Still, for people like Gabriel, it introduces continued uncertainty for his immediate future.
“Luckily my boss is an immigrant from India, so he understands the pains of immigration, so we’re looking at a 30-day leave,” Gabriel said. “All of these great things that have happened thanks to the executive action… and all of the hard work from the past four years would dissolve.”