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Florida Rep. Darren Soto to DHS: Delay DACA Deadline for Disaster Victims

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., is urging the Department of Homeland Security to delay the DACA deadline for recipients affected by Irma and Harvey.
Maria Rodriguez, director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, leads a group attending a rally to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in in Miami, on Tuesday Sept. 5, 2017. Pedro Portal / AP

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darren Soto is urging the Trump administration to extend the deadline for renewing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, for immigrants affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Soto, D-Fla., said he’s concerned the storms, which whipped through Texas and Florida, created “unforeseen hardship” for DACA recipients facing the Oct. 5 deadline. Those who don't meet the Trump administration-imposed deadline return to being considered illegally in the U.S. and subject to deportation when their DACA expires.

“Due to the devastation and severity of these two storms, several government offices were closed or are currently closed,” Soto said in a Sept. 19 letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

“In my district we suffered several power outages, fallen debris and flooding that prevented people from performing essential tasks or safely traveling throughout their communities,” Soto said in his letter.

DACA, which grants permission to immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally and work, is being phased out by President Donald Trump. People whose two years of DACA is scheduled to end Sept. 5 to March 5, were given until Oct. 5 to renew for another two years. DACA grants certain immigrants deferral from deportation.

Results of an NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll released Thursday showed 53 percent of all Americans want Congress to continue DACA.

Related: NBC/WSJ Poll: Majority Want Daca, But Trump Backers Oppose It

Reuters reported last week that a federal judge had also urged the administration to extend the deadline. The judge said in a Brooklyn court hearing that the deadline was “arbitrary and destructive, according to Reuters. The judge is presiding in a lawsuit filed by immigration advocacy groups challenging Trump's ending of DACA.

A DOJ official said in the court that DHS already has been considering an extension because of the hurricanes.

David Lapan, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said Wednesday Duke has not made a decision regarding the deadline. He said DACA recipients have two weeks to renew and don’t need to have approval by Oct. 5, just to have submitted a renewal application.

“As with any disaster, the department will evaluate the impact on specific potential benefit recipients living in the disaster-affected areas,” Lapan said.

The Department of Justice press office referred queries to DHS.

A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) student protester marches to Times Square in New York, New York, USA, on 18 September 2017. EPA/PETER FOLEYPETER FOLEY / EPA

Renewing DACA can be complex. It requires forms and documents, photographs and a $495 fee. Requirements vary by circumstances and person and some applicants need the assistance of a lawyer or from non-profit groups to help assemble their renewal applications.

The deadline has caught some applicants without the full $495 application fees. Non-profit groups and donors around the country are offering to pay the fee or offering no interest loans.

A website set up by immigrant advocates has a list of groups raising money and helping DACA recipients pay their fee as well as get legal help. Other group have also set up funds.

In New York, New Economy Project has expanded its NYCDreamerFund to provide grants and no-ineerest loans to DACA renewers.

Amy Fischer, political director of Texas-based RAÍCES, said their group has paid the $495 fee for 85 people, which she described as a lot, but a drop in the bucket compared to the need.

“Most of our outreach is through DACA clinics organized to help DACA renewers with applications and to inform them of the assistance," she said. "But there may be folks who may not come because they don’t have the $495 and so they don’t know."

Meanwhile, recovery from Harvey and Irma have only just begun.

Related: With Deadline Looming for DACA Immigrants, Donors Step In

In Florida, students began returning to school Monday, about a week after Irma made landfall. School returns are delayed until Sept. 25 in the hard-hit Florida Keys. Debris continues to block streets, some places lack air conditioning or power and many businesses still are closed.

In Texas, residents are continuing to pick through their belongings and trying to repair their homes, or for the unlucky, remain in temporary housing. Some in the Houston area continue to rely on donated food and water.

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