In LA, Biden Election Victory Encourages DACA Recipients Who've Felt Under Siege

A DACA supporter chants over a microphone during a car rally in MacArthur Park on June 18, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Sharen Moniqca said she barely slept during the week of the election, snatching a couple of hours here and there between watching the news.

Life under President Trump has been turbulent for young immigrants like Moniqca, people without legal immigration status who were brought to the U.S. as children and have sought temporary protection from deportation through DACA, short for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by the Obama administration.

"For undocumented folks, (the election) was just like extra nerve-racking," Moniqca said.

In 2017, the Trump administration tried to end the program, which was kept alive by a series of lower court rulings until the U.S. Supreme Court decided this year that it could continue. But since 2017, no new DACA applications have been accepted, an existing DACA participants have been required to renew every year, instead of every two years.

Moniqca was brought here by her parents from Indonesia when she was 4 years old and has depended on DACA for almost five years. DACA not only shields Moniqca from deportation, it allows the college senior to work legally so she can attend the University of California, Irvine.

So when Biden won, a relief rushed over Moniqca, even though his candidacy had felt like a "consolation prize" to her — Moniqca had supported Bernie Sanders.

"Biden's not the best candidate," Moniqca said. "I just know I feel a lot better than I did four years ago."

Biden was vice president in 2012 when the Obama administration introduced DACA, and it's hoped that he will restore the program to its pre-Trump status.

But until the president-elect outlines his plans, a lot of uncertainty still surrounds the program. Luis Perez directs legal services for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

"What we would like to see is for him to say that on day one, he's going to bring DACA back to what it was in 2012, meaning that it will be for two years, and that folks will be able to apply for the first time," Perez said.

The fee to re-apply is nearly $500 and often there are additional lawyer bills. Moving to a one-year filing period has proven egregiously expensive for many applicants.

DACA clinics run by CHIRLA several days a week are drawing only about half its 80-slot capacity. Perez said he believes its an indication that the high cost of renewing DACA has discouraged many from keeping up with the program.

But Perez is urging people with expiring DACA documents to renew and not fall out of status.

He is also telling them that immigration policies will improve after years of new restrictions by Trump, his immigration advisor Stephen Miller, and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"They did a lot of damage to our current immigration system," Perez said. "It's going to require an equal or even greater investment, not just to bring it back to what it used to be, but to actually have a more progressive and better immigration system."

Perez said that there's hope that under a Biden administration, there will be discussion of advancing beyond DACA and creating a streamlined process for participants to become legal permanent residents.

As for Moniqca, she's ready for the national immigration conversation to progress after four years of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, and to focus on expanding rights not just for DACA recipients like her, but all immigrants without status.

"Just because Biden got elected, it doesn't mean that all work is done," Moniqca said. "If anything, it just started."

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