PHOENIX - Dozens of volunteer lawyers and law students gathered Saturday for a training on how help recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program renew their status, following President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate the program.
Mi Familia Vota, a Latino advocacy nonprofit, and Phoenix lawyers are hosting volunteer training workshops for lawyers who want to help DACA recipients renew their status in time for the Oct. 5 deadline, free of charge.
The first training session was Saturday, just four days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the protections provided by former President Barack Obama's DACA program were an "unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch."
The day of the DACA announcement, Phoenix attorney Josh Nunez posted on Facebook the number to his office and told DACA recipients he would help them renew for free. The post has been shared over 40,000 times.
Nunez’s office was quickly booked with appointments, so he teamed up with Mi Familia Vota to provide training to other attorneys who wish to help at DACA renewal drives.
Trump’s decision came Tuesday. Mi Familia Vota and Nunez announced a volunteer training meeting Thursday. Saturday, the room was filled with about 60 people, according to the organization.
Phoenix attorney Arturo Gonzalez said he is overwhelmed with the turnout and how rapidly the community jumped to defend DACA.
“The support has been amazing,” Gonzalez said. “Absolutely incredible.”
Mi Familia Vota will continue to train volunteer legal experts in preparation for upcoming DACA renewal workshops beginning next month at their offices near Indian School Road and 16th Street.
Another training session for legal volunteers will be held Tuesday night from 6-8 p.m. at the Mi Familia Vota offices.
Legal volunteers will assist DACA recipients complete and submit renewal applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Gonzalez said parts of the application can be tricky between gathering all the necessary information, filling out the questionnaire and making sure all the information matches up, is accurate and clear.
Providing free legal services covers only part of the cost of the renewal process. Applying for renewal is not free. DACA recipients must pay $495 for the government to process each application.
Gonzalez and his classmates from the Leadership Institute of Hispanics Class of 2017 have created a crowdfunding page to help pay application fees for local DACA recipients.
The Department of Homeland Security has now stopped accepting new DACA applications – but current recipients will not be affected until March 5 of next year. This gives Congress time to find a legislative solution to replace the program, which currently shields some 800,000 young immigrants from deportation.
Gonzalez is no stranger to DACA recipients. His girlfriend, his best friend and his cousins are all protected under the DACA program.
“I want to use my position as an attorney and my network and contacts to get resources out to the community,” Gonzalez said.