Around 50,000 immigrant teens and young adults have applied for deportation relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy since the program was restored on December 7th 2020. Lawyers in Mississippi, in particular, have reported a spike in DACA consultations and applications. Yet, so far only around 1.5% of applicants have had their applications approved.DACA applicants in Mississippi“[We’ve seen] a large influx of people requesting DACA,” said Brandon Riches, lead attorney at Anderson Immigration Law Group. “I know just myself, I’ve had like a dozen cases.” To apply to the program, a number of specific requirements must be fulfilled. Immigrants must be under the age of 31 as of June 15 2012, have arrived in the US under the age of 16, and have resided in the country since June 2007. “DACA is a way to not punish the children who were brought here by their parents,” Riches said. “They may have been two months old at the time. They really didn’t have a choice in the matter.”
Helping Mississppi’s immigrantsThe United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) heavily scrutinizes any and all DACA applications, Kyle Farmer, attorney at Farmer Law PC, explains. It’s therefore important immigrants don’t take on their DACA applications alone and work with an experienced lawyer specializing in immigration. The DACA program doesn’t only help thousands of immigrants across Mississippi avoid deportation. It also provides access to standard American citizen benefits like the ability to work, obtain a social security card, and apply to community colleges and universities. Many also use DACA to apply for a driver’s license. “Immigration rights are human rights,” said Max Lewis Meyers of Mississippi Center for Justice. “They are American rights and they are civil rights.”Building trustNow the DACA program is back in business, advocates are prioritizing outreach to build trust and help empower immigrants, a particularly vulnerable segment of the population, throughout the application or renewal process. “Trust is key,” said Meyers. “History is real, particularly the history in Mississippi and throughout the south. As a result of that, scepticism, fear, those are really valid feelings to have.” And, although advocates and lawyers across Mississippi are largely celebrating DACA’s reinstatement, they also acknowledge the need for future changes. For example, DACA “helps people get the ability to go to school, work, support a family and live in the U.S.”, notes Riches, “but it doesn’t provide permanent residency in the U.S.”. Attorneys and advocates are now pushing for an improved program that enables citizenship as well as additional changes, such as, major immigration reform and a suspension on deportations.For now, lawyers remain dedicated to educating their clients and the wider general public about the country’s continually-evolving immigration policy. “In order for people to harness these tools, they’ve got to know about them but they also need to trust that these are real,” said Meyers.