Local Dreamers on Edge as DACA’s Fate Remains Unclear

SACRAMENTO -- Congress failed to come up with an agreement Thursday to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from expiring.

It was the latest effort to renew the program, which shields 800,000 people who are in the country illegally from being deported.

Two different Senate bills got a vote, one was a bipartisan effort, the other was more heavily favored by the White House. Neither one passed the Senate Thursday.

The bipartisan vote included a measure to grant legal status to 1.8 million people, including all Dreamers, and $25 billion for border security, which included money for the wall, new border agents, technology and infrastructure.

Local Dreamers were concerned and have been since September, when the Trump administration announced it would phase DACA out.

Estimates from the Center for American Progress say just shy of 20,000 Dreamers have lost their status already since Oct. 5. The Department of Homeland Security has not been renewing new applications since October.

Tomas Evangelista's fate in the United States lies entirely in the hands of Congress.

"It doesn't look good for us. But we believe in democracy, we believe in the American people," he said.

DACA is set to expire March 5, less than three weeks away. For Dreamers like Evangelista the clock is ticking.

"A lot of Dreamers right now are starting to get really concerned," Evangelista said.

"Students are waiting. They're waiting 'til the last moment to see what's gonna happen because their lives depend on it," said Lupita Cortez Alcala, the executive director of the California Student Aid Commission.

Cortez Alcala said Dreamers fears are reflected in the numbers.

CSAC gives undocumented students grant money for college. Except this year only about half of the usual amount of undocumented students have even applied for financial aid for school, which is down 16,000 from last year.

In 2017, 36,129 undocumented people applied for college financial aid. This year 20,516 applied.

"Students are afraid I think," Cortez Alcala said. "They're afraid of their information being forwarded onto the federal government. We've heard from students that have called and asked us, 'Are you really gonna protect our information?'"

Cortez Alcala said students are holding out to see if DACA gets renewed before they apply for aid.

The debate in Congress isn't just about DACA. Each bill that failed Thursday included billions of dollars for the wall and border security, along with cuts to how many immigrants the country lets in and reforms to how the U.S. lets them in.

The added measures are frustrating for Dreamers like Evangelista.

"You don't say to someone, 'I want to help you, but first give me this.' That's not the way that you help somebody," he said.

And while he remains hopeful, his eyes are on the calendar. Without a DACA deal, come March 5 about one thousand Dreamers will start to lose their status in this country every day.

Even before March 5 no one can renew their DACA status. About 122 people are losing DACA status every day, so long as Congress continues to let DACA go without renewing it.