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Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa covering $495 immigration renewal fee for ’Dreamers’

While Trump administration tries to hobble DACA program allowing young immigrants to remain in the United States, Catholic Charities comes to the rescue.|

Since graduating from Sonoma State University with a degree in sociology in the spring, Margarita Mejia has been working two jobs, trying to save money for graduate school. Mejia, 24, is an aide at a skilled nursing facility, and a case worker at a company that helps young adults with intellectual and developmental issues.

She is also a so-called “Dreamer” — someone the Trump administration would like to deport. Born in Mexico, she came to the United States when she was 8 years old. Mejia remains in the country under protections offered by the Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The Trump administration tried to dismantle that program, which protects her and some 700,000 young immigrants across the country, but was rebuked in June by the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld DACA.

Having failed to outlaw the program under which these young people have been able to remain in the United States, the administration now seeks to hobble it. DACA recipients seeking to renew their applications must now do it annually, instead of every two years — essentially doubling the cost of a renewal.

That is, in part, why Mejia and a steady stream of “Dreamers” have been coming this week into the offices of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa. Thanks to a grant from the California Department of Social Services, Catholic Charities is processing DACA renewals, and waiving the $495 fee for the first 120 people who renew.

Having just graduated from college, “I don’t have the economic standing that other people might have,” said Mejia, “so this is definitely a lifeline.”

John Pavik, who works in Catholic Charities’ communication department, posted on Facebook about its DACA renewal fee waiver at 7 p.m. last Thursday. By the next morning, that post had been viewed 18,000 times, said Dina Lopez, who directs the nonprofit’s immigration operations.

While it’s not clear how many “Dreamers” are in Sonoma County, Lopez estimated 20,000.

Even after DACA got a Supreme Court reprieve, “there’s a lot of anxiety” among younger immigrants, said Alejandra Torres, assistant director of the immigration program. The Trump administration has made it clear it wants to get rid of DACA.

“A lot of our ’Dreamers’ are professionals. They have a career, they’re working full-time,” Torres said. “Their ability to keep working, to pay their rent or mortgage, to feed their families, depends on their work permit.”

This isn’t the first time Catholic Charities has offered a DACA renewal fee waiver. The state social services department provides such grants twice a year, on average. Since 2012, the nonprofit has helped some 1,200 people enroll in DACA, or renew their participation in the program, said Jennielynn Holmes, Catholic Charities’ chief program officer.

In July, the Trump administration announced it would no longer accept new applications for DACA. That news hasn’t reached some parents who show up at Catholic Charities, hoping to enroll their children in the program.

Some of these parents, said Ingrid Salazar, who works in the nonprofit’s immigration department, have an older child who may already be a “Dreamer,” and a younger one who’s not yet enrolled.

“When they find out the younger ones can’t apply,” Salazar said, “they’re sad about that.”

Between the Trump administration’s hostility toward the DACA program in particular and immigrants in general, Torres said, “we’ve faced a lot of challenges.”

We also have a lot of hope, she said, about what “the next couple of years” may bring, he said. “We just have to keep dreaming.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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