At Least 1,900 Immigrants Were Rejected Because of Mail Problems

In August, shortly before President Donald Trump said he would cancel the DACA program, protesters marched near Trump Tower in favor of continuing it.

Three months after mail delays disrupted the lives of young immigrants whose applications to renew temporary work permits were wrongly rejected for being late, the totals are in: more than 1,900 people were affected, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency said.

As Congress debates the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which is set to expire on March 5, the rejected applicants have been scrambling to overcome the government’s error. Many have already lost their work permits, causing a cascade of consequences.

Mauricio Noroña, a lawyer for the Immigrant Community Law Center in Manhattan called the 1,900 figure, “astounding.” He saw the devastating effects the mail delays had on one of his clients, whom he declined to name, saying she was afraid of repercussions from the government.

“She lost her job, lost her apartment, and is now temporarily staying with family in her home state,” Mr. Noroña said. “More worrisome, our client is at risk of being placed in removal proceedings pending her DACA renewal, a process that may take months because U.S.C.I.S. didn’t commit to expedite affected cases.”

A spokesman for the immigration agency, Steve Blando, said that the agency has given people 33 days to resubmit their renewal forms, but would not make the applications a priority. Nor would the agency extend their current permits to cover any gaps, or even make the permit, when received, retroactive.

“There is no expedited processing for deferred action under DACA,” he said in a statement. “These DACA requests will be processed in accordance with standard procedures. An individual’s deferred action under the DACA policy begins the day U.S.C.I.S. approves the request and is generally valid for two years from the date of issuance.”

The delayed applications were reported by The New York Times in November. Officials initially said that nothing could be done for the rejected applicants, and said the number was small. But as elected officials complained and the extent of the problem became clear, the agency reversed its position.

Some applications sat for weeks without being delivered by the Postal Service, others arrived on time at designated collection centers in Chicago, Dallas and Phoenix, but were not processed on time because of courier problems.

This week, U.S.C.I.S. said it sent letters to more than “1,700 individuals,” and that more than 200 applicants resubmitted their renewals before the government invited them to do so.

Part of the problem, immigration activists say, was that the agency imposed a “received by” deadline, instead of relying on a postmark as it does with most other immigration-related applications. In September, the Trump administration announced that it planned to end DACA on March 5 but urged Congress to find a legislative solution before then. Anyone whose permit expired before March could renew by Oct. 5.

“The fact that that many individuals were affected shows that the deadline they imposed — which we always said was too short and too arbitrary — was too short even for the government to perform its functions properly,” Camille Mackler, the director of legal initiatives for the New York Immigration Coalition.

According to U.S.C.I.S., 154,000 people were eligible to apply for renewal and 132,000 applications were received on time. According to an Oct. 18 deposition of an immigration official conducted as part of a federal lawsuit in Brooklyn, 4,000 DACA applications arrived late and were rejected.

The government is taking the blame for nearly half of those.

Hasan Shafiqullah, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society of New York said he thought the number might even be higher.

One of his clients whose application was rejected lost his DACA protections on Dec. 1, another lost them on Dec. 23, and two more will lose theirs soon. Without DACA permits, the immigrants cannot legally work and may not be eligible for college scholarships.

According to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, about 122 people have been losing their DACA permits per day, a number calculated before the extent of the mail delays were known. The full effect of the mail delays may be felt for months — or even years.

If an immigrant lives in the country illegally for any amount of time, it could have harmful repercussions, Ms. Mackler and Mr. Shafiqullah said. It could make it especially difficult for those who have turned 18 after their DACA permits expire to get green cards from employers.

“Typically DACA folks are low income, and for anyone, the inability to work is difficult, especially people living paycheck to paycheck — it can be devastating,” Mr. Shafiqullah said.

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