BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Nationwide, immigration attorneys have been dealing with a spike in DACA applications and renewals ever since the program was restored on Dec. 7, 2020.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agreed to follow federal court instruction to fully restore the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after the Trump Administration ended it back in September 2017.
“Immigration rights are human rights,” said Max Lewis Meyers, staff attorney at Mississippi Center for Justice. “They are American rights and they are civil rights.”
Since last month, immigration lawyers in Mississippi have been welcoming hundreds of consolations and taking on an increase in cases.
“(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.”
The program is open for a small group of immigrants that are under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, came to the United States under the age of 16 and have lived in the country since June 2007, among other specific qualifications.
“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.”
The program allows thousands of immigrants in the Magnolia State to have access to typical American citizen benefits, such as the ability to get a driver’s license or apply to community colleges and universities.
Now that the program is fully operational, advocates are focused on outreach - making sure a vulnerable population feels comfortable with 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, skepticism, fear, those are really valid feelings to have.”
While the work proves challenging, the state’s lawyers remain dedicated to their cause.
“I take that responsibility very seriously,” added Meyers.
While some of Mississippi’s leading immigration counsel celebrates the restoration of DACA, they also say more changes need to be done to the program by President-Elect Joe Biden.
“(DACA) helps people get the ability to go to school, work, support a family and live in the U.S., but it doesn’t provide permanent residency in the U.S.,” Riches said.
Attorneys push for a better program that paves a road to citizenship while also advocating for other changes like a 100-day suspension on deportations and large-scale immigration reform.
They also want lawmakers to learn from the mistakes of the Trump presidency, such as separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border and placing restrictions on asylum cases.
“People now have seen what is at risk when a person who is not friendly to immigration is in power,” said Meyers.
Until the incoming Biden Administration fulfills their promises for a more modern immigration system, lawyers are focused on educating clients and the public about ever-changing policies.
Until change comes, lawyers are focused on educating clients and the public about ever-changing 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.
For those interested in contacting the Mississippi Center for Justice about DACA information, click here.