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Thousands Of Young Immigrants In Limbo, Losing Work Permits

Diana Aguilera
Valley Public Radio
Brenda Ordaz is one of thousands of young immigrants whose work permit expired, despite having applied on time.

Thousands of undocumented people gained work permits in 2012 as part of an Obama administration effort to shield young people from deportation. Now, as it comes time to renew their paperwork some of these same immigrants- known as “dreamers”- are losing the chance to work legally in the states. FM89’s Diana Aguilera reports how some people in the Central Valley are left in limbo.

Brenda Ordaz, 22, describes herself as a country girl. She enjoys taking care of her roosters and living in the rural community of Madera. It’s the place she calls home.

But she hasn’t always lived in the San Joaquin Valley. 

“I was born in Ensenada in Baja California which is right down the border,” Ordaz says. “My parents migrated there from Oaxaca, they’re indigenous people from Oaxaca in the Central Valleys.”

"It was a waiting game,just wait until you get something in the mail."

When she was 10, she and her family moved from Mexico to California. And in 2013, Ordaz was granted a temporary legal status and a work permit for two years. This was possible through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, which took effect in 2012, allows young unathorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before turning 16 to avoid deportation and a temporary work permit.

Now a few years later those who applied have to renew and that’s creating a problem. Many young immigrants aren’t sending their applications in on time and even some who do, are seeing their work permits expire with no word from the government. That’s what happened to Brenda Ordaz.

“It was a waiting game, just wait until you get something in the mail.”

She submitted her renewal application well within the suggested time but on April 17 of this year her work permit and status expired. Ordaz was no longer protected by the program.

“I think it was more frustrating and somewhat nervous too,” she says. “I wasn’t as nervous about it because my employer had told me it might happen but for other people they really don’t know what’s going to happen more like oh my God I’m going to lose my job.”

To her relief, she received the approval letters nearly a week after her old permit expired.

“I was really happy when they came it’s like finally I get something,” Ordaz says.

Roughly 3,500 young Dreamers have had their work permits expire while they’re still waiting for their renewal to be approved in spite of having applied on time. That’s according to numbers released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Maricela Cobarruvias is with the Education and Leadership foundation in Fresno. She says this is becoming a concern to young immigrants who fear losing their jobs.

“I had this person where she applied within the five months but then when she calls they tell her they’re still processing the ones from November. This was two weeks ago.”

For many no work permit means no job. People are struggling to apply within the recommended time of 150 days.

Credit Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Ordaz shows the documents that officially granted her temporary relief from deportation and a work permit.

“In a lot of the cases it doesn’t give them enough time to gather the money and apply on time to,” Cobarruvias says. “It’s a lot of money for our farm worker families to come up with that money and submit on time.”

Each application costs $465, not counting attorney fees. So far, roughly 7,500 people have submitted their paperwork after the recommended time and have their cases pending. We reached out to USCIS, the agency that handles the cases, but they declined to comment on air. In a written statement, they said they were working to address the overall issue.

Local attorney Jessica Smith Bobadilla says immigration applications can be extremely tricky.

“Any box a yes that should have been a no or a box that’s not filled out those kind of things can require under the regulations the government officials not to process the application or to do some type of cross checking process which obviously takes some additional time.”

Back in Madera, Brenda Ordaz says with or without the approval letters she feels at home.

“I think were you’re born is simply where you’re born I mean you can always have those roots but were you make your home is wherever you choose,” she says. “More than any other place I’ve lived here the longest so I do consider it my home.”

She’s not alone, experts say in Fresno County there could be as many as 11,000 DACA eligible residents. 

Diana Aguilera is a multimedia reporter native of Santiago, Chile. It was during her childhood in Santiago where her love for journalism sparked. Diana moved to Fresno while in her teens and is a proud graduate of California State University, Fresno. While earning her degree in journalism and minor in Latin American studies, Diana worked for the Fresno Bee. Her work as a general assignment reporter continued after college and was recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2014, she joined Valley Public Radio. Her hobbies include yoga, traveling and reading.
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