Tens of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who had their first-time Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications backlogged due to government delays saw their applications ground to a complete halt following a federal judge’s ruling against the program earlier this month. That was frustrating, devastating, and heartbreaking enough.
But CBS News now reports that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the immigration agency that processes this paperwork and has been experiencing issues that had delayed approval of applications, will not be refunding applicants their $495 application fees. “This is beyond cruel,” tweeted DACA recipient Reyna Montoya. “I personally know many young people who saved up their money to apply for #DACA with the hope of a resolution.”
“USCIS announced on Tuesday that it would place pending first-time DACA applications ‘on hold’ while the Texas court ruling remains in effect,” CBS News reported. “Immigrants with these pending requests will not get a refund for the $495 application fee they paid, USCIS said.” Per that report, at least 81,000 first-time applications had been backlogged due to agency delays, some for months on end, senators led by Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto said last month.
CBS News reported that “Cortez Masto noted that first-time DACA applicants were not responsible for processing delays” at USCIS, yet here they are paying the price—$495 to be exact, not including attorney fees if one was needed—for the government failing to process their applications in a timely manner.
“I funded my first #DACA application by saving the money I was making while sweating and grinding out long hours in the hot, humid Miami weather teaching tennis under that beaming FL sun,” tweeted DACA recipient Adrián Escárate. He’d been responding to Tony Choi, another DACA recipient who recounted working hard to save up enough to apply. “My own initial DACA application was funded by hours and hours working at a sushi takeout place as a cashier,” he wrote. “I know intimately what the human cost of this application is.”
In fact, a major reason why some young immigrants may not have applied right away after the program was reopened under court order last December is precisely because of this expensive fee.
The Biden administration didn’t appear to give any explanation as to why first-time DACA applicants won’t be refunded their fees. While President Biden said following Judge Andrew Hanen’s decision that his administration “intends to appeal this decision in order to preserve and fortify DACA,” CBS News reports that hasn’t actually happened as of yet. “The Biden administration has pledged to appeal this month's court order and to publish a rule that would codify DACA into a regulatory policy, but it hasn't given any timeframe for these actions,” CBS News continued.
Even if you’re generous and assume the federal government is maybe keeping the fees because it hopes it can fight in court to get those pending applications approved, there’s no guarantee it’ll be a quick fight, or that they’ll get approved at all. It’s cruel to continue holding on to that money—and I can’t be convinced that the federal government can’t both refund these fees while continuing to fight to save these applications. It’s the least that can be done for tens of thousands of young immigrants who sent in their applications only to be met with bureaucratic delays, then had their hopes about applying for the program dashed yet again.
"I thought I was basically close to the finish line," 18-year-old Arlette Morales told CBS News. She’d applied this year and had gotten as far as competing her biometric appointment. "But unfortunately, I was not."
Adding to this cruelty is that USCIS approved a number of applicants after Hanen’s ruling. They’re now being informed they don’t have DACA after all. “Per today's court filings, @USCIS mistakenly adjudicated nine first-time DACA applications during the weekend following the court ruling,” Camilo Montoya-Galvez reported. “USCIS is now ‘in the process’ of telling first-time applicants who received approvals during this time that they're not enrolled in DACA.” DACA recipient José Alonso Muñoz called it “beyond heartbreaking. I cannot imagine the devastation this will cause these young people. Unfortunately this is made worse knowing USCIS was extremely delayed in processing these applications in the first place.”
Following Hanen’s ruling, a group of young immigrants met with Vice President Harris at the White House, where they said they “reminded her of the urgency of this moment.” They called Hanen’s ruling “gut wrenching for millions of families, and tens of thousands of immigrant youth who were waiting on deportation reprieve and a work permit [who] now remain in limbo.” They urged congressional Democrats to act on their own to pass relief through the budget reconciliation process.
“After months of pressure from our people-powered movement, Democrats have included a pathway to citizenship in their budget reconciliation,” United We Dream executive director Greisa Martinez Rosas said. “We made clear the critical role Vice President Harris will play in ensuring that Democrats keep their word and deliver on citizenship this year by casting a historic tie-breaking vote. The reality is that the only way to protect immigrant youth, TPS recipients, farm workers and other essential workers is by passing a pathway to citizenship through reconciliation this year. ”