Lorena Martinez joined other "Dreamers" on Monday in bids to renew legal immigration protections they faced losing, seizing on a court order that she hopes will save her job and keep her family intact.
A window for Martinez to renew her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status cracked open two months before her status was scheduled to expire. The program, frequently called DACA, is in the late stages of a monthslong wind-down that President Donald Trump's administration announced last fall.
"I started crying," said Martinez, 29, a Wal-Mart staff auditor who lives in Bentonville, of when she heard about the order. "It's a huge, huge deal. I don't think people realize how big a deal it is for people like me."
The reversal came over the weekend in response to a court order, in which a federal judge in California said the government must process applications while a lawsuit challenging the program's end is pending. The U.S. Department of Justice has said it would appeal that order. Congress continues to negotiate a permanent fix.
Martinez's application was one of about eight that Springdale-based immigration attorney Drew Devenport mailed on Monday, he said. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Saturday night it would resume taking renewal applications.
"We don't know how long the window will be open," Devenport said. "It could be a couple of days, a couple of weeks or a couple of months."
Deferred action began under then-President Barack Obama and has allowed around 5,000 Arkansans and 800,000 people nationwide to work and live without fear of being deported. The program applies to people who arrived in the U.S. as children and live here illegally.
The government stopped processing new and renewal applications in October, and waves of people were on track to begin losing the protections in March, which was the cutoff expiration date for last year's renewals.
After Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Sept. 5 he would rescind the program, Trump urged Congress to pass legislation. But the bill's fate has since been linked to broader immigration policy negotiations and a bill to avoid a government shutdown.
It is in that environment that Martinez, who arrived in the U.S. from Mexico with her parents when she was 2, braced for the worst while her work authorization's March 22 expiration date drew closer.
"I'm going to go back into hiding," she said she thought. "I'm losing everything again, starting at zero."
Martinez, who is married to a U.S. citizen and has three American sons, said she has no memory of her home country and wouldn't know what to do if she returned. Her parents came to the U.S. legally but have since moved back, she said.
Martinez, who has been married for 12 years, could petition for citizenship through her husband, but the process is costly, risky and takes years, she said. It also requires her to spend time in Mexico, she said.
"That's the most terrifying part to me," Martinez said. "I've never been to Mexico in my whole life."
Arkansas advocates are encouraging people to consider applying for renewals if their current status lapses before mid-July.
Iris Aquino, a volunteer for the nonprofit advocacy group Arkansas United Community Coalition, called the court order a "small victory," given that people whose status expires after July have no assurances.
"It's really an emotional roller-coaster for those who have DACA and for those who don't, because we really don't know what is going to happen," Aquino said. "Sometimes we find hope, but then we lose it."
A small, bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement last week that would provide a legislative fix for Dreamers -- whose name refers to the never-passed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- while tackling other immigration issues.
Details included a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers that would take 10-12 years, changes to the visa lottery system and $1.6 billion for structures that include a wall on the country's southwestern border, according to The Associated Press.
But Trump, who has also pushed for changes to family-based immigration, signaled displeasure with the senators' proposal. "DACA is probably dead," he said in a Twitter post Sunday.
Among the people paying attention to news out of Washington is Martinez's 13-year-old son, Adam Amezcua.
"I'm sorry you have to go through all of this," he told her.
A Section on 01/16/2018
Print Headline: State 'Dreamers' persist, with hope