Undocumented immigration has been a hot topic in recent years and the country has been deeply engaged on how to handle the “dreamers” population. “Dreamers” are immigrant children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. In 2012, Former United States President Barack Obama announced the creation of an administrative policy temporarily protecting “dreamers” from deportation. Through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, thousands were able to come from the shadows and take steps to become integrated in society. As long as they fulfilled the requirements, eligible applicants could remain in the country. Of course in any program, there are costs associated with applying and many in the DACA community had issues of affordability. That is when organizations who advocated and assisted the undocumented immigrant community decided to help.
Organizations like the New Economy Project (NEP) and Mission Asset Fund (MAF) stepped up to help assist applicants of the program get funds to pay for the $495 application fee associated with it. NEP provides funding only in New York City and the MAF provides funding only in California. Lauren Wilfong, Program & Operations Coordinator for the NEP, says “The steep application fee was a tremendous burden for the families.” Both organizations focus on financial justice issues and provide economic advocacy. NEP works with the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union and the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union that are committed to community development of historically marginalized communities. “We created the NYC DACA Fund in 2012 to ensure that financial need did not prevent DACA-eligible New Yorkers from securing these vital protections says Wilfong. “We partnered with two community development credit unions that are based in, and have a track record of responsibly serving, immigrant communities.” “Coming up with almost $500 to cover DACA application fees isn’t easy for someone already struggling to get by.” “We’ve had people tell us that, without our fund, they would have had to choose between basic needs — like paying rent or buying groceries — and covering their DACA fees.” The application process for the loan is streamlined between the financial institutions and the NEP and if the applicants are approved they receive the funds and can pay it back over time. They are also able to open accounts at the credit unions and become part of the financial system.
The DACA program was available for renewal every couple of years until President Donald Trump decided to end the policy which would affect an estimated 800,000 people. DACA is not accepting any new applications only those already registered can apply for renewals. The climate around the immigration debate changed with increased raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) across the country and anxiety building in immigrant communities about their future.
Since President Donald Trump announced the change in policy on DACA the status of the “dreamers” community affected remains unsettled. The DACA renewal program is still open for now and the issues continue to be fought in court. In response to that, MAF relaunched their grant program and they say they provided funding to about 7% of the nationwide DACA renewal community. The program has since ended because the funds were exhausted according to Tara Robinson, MAF’s Chief Development Officer. NEP also expanded their DACA program to include rapid response grants. Due to the short notification period announcing the end of the program, NEP rolled out their grants program with a cap on how much a person can earn to receive it. Currently, the DACA program is being challenged in court and legislation to renew the program or create a path to citizenship is on hold. “We also saw a lot of crowd funding campaigns to provide funds to the DACA community”says Wilfong. According to Wilfong, the NEP’s program has been very successful and NEP remains committed to fighting for immigrants and for economic justice. Since their grant program ended, MAF returned to doing just loans for while expanding to include other forms of immigration permit programs like green cards, citizenship, TPS, and DACA, – for any California resident. People can apply on their website. “They just need to be eligible for DACA, TPS, Green Card, Petition for immigrant relative – and we’ll help provide a 0% interest loan to finance their USCIS application fee” says Robinson.
According to Wilfong, since the creation of our DACA Fund, the NEP made more than 550 grants and 0% interest loans to DACA-eligible NYC residents to cover the $495 (formerly $465) application fee.