New Mexico DACA recipients losing work permissions amid extreme backlog

Politics - Government

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As New Mexico businesses desperately search for workers, one group says they want to work, but can’t. Thousands of ‘Dreamers’ who benefit from DACA – including many here in New Mexico – are finding themselves shut out of the job market.

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Aline Castelan came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was just six years old, first moving to Phoenix before calling New Mexico home. She qualifies for the Obama-era DACA program but says as of late, things are tough. “I loved it here. I adore New Mexico, they welcomed me with open arms,” said Castelan. “Unfortunately, I am one of the people who have to depend on DACA to work, to apply for a license, really anything that needs a social security.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is dealing with a pandemic paperwork backlog, causing renewals and work permits to expire, even if they filed early. Castelan, a recent college grad, says the delays have put her – and friends and family – in work limbo. “Because of these backlogs, I’ve had to leave a previous job I had because of the paperwork,” said Castelan. “Even though they really wanted to help me, it’s something they can’t legally do.”

Victoria Lucero is an Albuquerque-based lawyer who specializes in immigration cases. She says dozens of her DACA and refugee clients are desperate for answers. “Unfortunately, we’re just not able to give that to them. When we send cases off, it’s kind of out of our hands at that point,” said Lucero. “For a lot of my clients, they’re really suffering. They’re having to move in with other family members because they’re not able to work. They’re not able to support themselves.”

She says the few answers she has received aren’t very helpful. Changes to immigration status could take more than 50 months to complete. “For example, for these adjustments of status, the timeline right now is anywhere from 13.5 months to 56.5 months, so to tell a client you can wait a year or you could wait five years, that’s a huge timeline. That doesn’t give them any hope,” said Lucero. “Immigration reform, in general, there’s a lot of immigration attorneys, including myself, who are advocating for an overhaul of the whole system.”

In a time where New Mexico businesses are struggling to find workers, Castelan says it’s frustrating because there’s this whole population that wants to work but can’t until this gets sorted out. Besides work permits, the backlog of applications is also impacting things like driver’s license renewals and schooling. “I just feel like they failed us because we do the things they ask us to do every two years and yet we still have to depend on them to get it to us,” said Castelan. “I think people have to realize that this temporary thing was supposed to be temporary and there should be change.”

Dreamers like Castelan say this is a perfect example of why the Biden administration and Congress need to not only the fix the backlog, but also replace DACA with something more permanent. Back in March, the U.S. House passed the 2021 American Dream and Promise Act to provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. Hearings were held in the Senate last month, but no decisions have been made.

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