Local nonprofit Jolt helps pay for DACA renewals

Maria Mendez

As undocumented students grapple with the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the nonprofit Jolt is fundraising to help Central Texans submit and pay for the last round of DACA applications by Oct. 5.

Through an online donation campaign, Jolt, a Latino-empowerment organization, will pay for DACA application fees for undocumented students to go through the process with the Central Texas nonprofit American Gateways, which provides legal services to low-income immigrant communities. Tess Ortega, Jolt’s lead volunteer coordinator, said application fees can prevent or delay undocumented students from renewing permits. 

“That can be a barrier for a lot of people,” Ortega said. “So we’re trying to raise money for those renewal fees.” 

The Trump administration’s decision last Tuesday to terminate DACA by March 5 has left undocumented students with permits that expire before then with a little less than a month to apply for two-year DACA renewals. Renewing applicants must gather all necessary documents and at least $495 for the application fee before the approaching deadline.

Berenice Ramirez, health and society junior, said the new deadline puts some college students who need to reapply in a vulnerable place because they may not have budgeted to renew permits by next month. Ramirez, the president of the UT chapter of Jolt, had already renewed her DACA permit before the administration’s announcement.

“A lot of people don’t have that disposable income,” Ramirez said. “I know my family doesn’t, especially now with us having to pay tuition, having to pay rent. It’s like having this random fine that you have to pay away. It’s very stressful and worrisome for a lot of people because they weren’t expecting to renew so abruptly.”

Previously, DACA recipients could plan to renew their work permits five months in advance, said Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the UT School of Law.

“You were encouraged to apply beginning five months before the (permit) expiration, but there really wasn’t a firm deadline,” Gilman said. “So that’s a pretty dramatic change.”

Edna Yang, deputy director of American Gateways, said the organization is trying to help as many renewing DACA students as possible through walk-in DACA legal assistance from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Oct. 5.

“As you might know, Texas has 124,000 of the 800,000 DACA recipients,” Yang said. “So we’re trying to help as many people that qualify for the renewal to apply in a timely manner.”

Yang said DACA students seeking renewals should bring previous DACA applications, forms of identification and passports from their home country. Ramirez said acquiring all the necessary documents can also be hard to maneuver.

“Before you even send your application out for DACA, you also have to figure out a way to pay for some kind of identification from whatever country you’re from,” Ramirez said. 

Yang said American Gateways will also host free DACA workshops throughout Austin in partnership with UT’s University Leadership Initiative, Education Austin and the Texas Here To Stay coalition. Gilman said UT School of Law members will also volunteer at DACA workshops.

“The community in Austin and the surrounding areas has really rallied to try and make sure that every person that qualifies files so they can have some protection for last part of the program,” Yang said.