The calls have been coming in at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland since September, but the answers are the same.

Nearly six months have passed since President Trump announced he would rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives work permits to young undocumented immigrants. The president said a permanent replacement for DACA would need to come from Congress, which has so far failed to pass one. The expiration date – March 5 – gets closer each day.

“We’re still hopeful that at some point Congress can come to a sensible solution,” ILAP Executive Director Sue Roche said.

Former President Obama created DACA in an executive order in 2012. The program does not offer a path to permanent legal residence, also called a green card, or citizenship. But it allows eligible immigrants to live and work in the United States with two-year, renewable work permits. Nationally, nearly 800,000 people have been approved for the program.

“They’ve moved on with their lives since they got work authorization,” Roche said. “They’re in college. They are in the military. They are working. Now, their futures are uncertain.”

Trump said Obama exceeded his authority by creating the program. Last week, three different deals that would have made DACA permanent failed in Congress, and lawmakers left for a weeklong recess with no solution.

The federal government planned to stop renewing work permits March 5, so the program would phase out as those authorizations expired. Two separate federal courts have blocked the president from ending DACA, so that March deadline might not stand. The Trump administration has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could announce as early as Tuesday if it will take up the case.

Meanwhile, dozens of Maine residents enrolled in DACA are facing uncertain futures.

“At the moment I feel very fearful,” said Christian Castaneda, 20, a University of Southern Maine sophomore enrolled in DACA.

Castaneda, who is studying business, hopes to run his own business and dreams about serving in the Marines, said there is no certainty in his life. He said it is a real possibility that he will be deported to El Salvador, where he was born. He has no memories of the country, which he left at age 4 with his parents and sister for a new life in Portland.

Last month, his parents learned the Trump administration was ending the protected status given to them in 2001, along with 200,000 other Salvadorans who were then living in the United States after earthquakes devastated their country. They will no longer be living and working in the United States legally after Sept. 9, 2019. Castaneda’s sister, who is also in DACA, faces being parted from her 6-year-old American daughter. Castaneda has several friends who are in similar situations.

“I don’t know what I can do,” Castaneda said Saturday.

Last month, he traveled twice to Washington to rally and to meet with three members of Maine’s congressional delegation: Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree.

“With everything going on, there really isn’t a clear message, so I can’t say what will happen. My life right now is up in the air,” Castaneda said.

Data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show that at least 105 people in Maine have received initial approval for DACA to date. Also, an unknown number of people have registered in other states and are in Maine for college or work.

Beth Stickney, executive director of the Maine Business Immigrant Coalition, said she believes the number of DACA registrants living in Maine is closer to 200 or even 300.

Stickney said she does not know of people who are making plans to flee, in part because the process of winding down DACA and deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants would be a long one. But they are still facing the loss of work permits and jobs, military careers and professional licenses, mortgages and car loans. So right now, there isn’t much they can do except wait.

“People really are just focused on getting through the day and hoping that there will be better news tomorrow,” she said.

Stickney said she has also spoken with DACA recipients who are conflicted about the terms of a compromise that might come out of Congress. For example, a bill that saves DACA might come with new limits on family immigration.

“The other thing that comes into the equation, too, is DACA folks don’t want to feel like they will be the cause of some bad immigration policy,” Stickney said.

Sister Patricia Pora, longtime director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said many young immigrants are as worried for their parents as they are for themselves. The Trump administration is also ending protected status for Haitians living in the United States.

“It’s hard to know what to say,” Pora said. ” ‘We’re with you,’ is basically what we say. We’re trying to advocate for you. There’s a lot of people that are supporting you. But how much can you say?”

 

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