Software startup DACA Time is tackling a small part of a much larger issue at the heart of many a heated political discussion. Often lumped in with over-arching immigration reform, DACA Time points out an important statistic among the vitriol: various polls show that an overwhelming majority of respondents, with percentages ranging from the mid-70s to low-90s, support a path to citizenship for DACA’s dreamers.
The Obama-era executive order, DACA — Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals — provided temporary protection for undocumented immigrants that came to the U.S. as children. According to archived information on the Department of Homeland Security website:
“Certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. They are also eligible for work authorization. Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. Deferred action does not provide lawful status.”
In September of 2017, President Trump announced DACA’s recension and gave Congress six months to figure out a more permanent solutions for the nearly 800,000 affected individuals. The March 5 deadline came and went with no measures passed, and a whole new crop of lawsuits.
As time moves on from the deadline more and more young immigrants are left in limbo. Current injunctions allow DACA recipients to maintain their status and re-apply, but no new applicants are being accepted into the system.
In hopes of an eventual solution and wanting to help those already under its protections, DACA Time has found not only a need for their technological solution, but a bigger-picture need for education and presentation of the facts surrounding DACA that are often missing from the conversation.
There’s no better example of the obstacles they’re facing, and the solutions that exist, than an encounter the team had at Festival Latino last year.
An older, white gentleman approached the team, armed with insults like “Go back to where you came from.” and “Get in line.” Co-Founder, Chief Dreamer and DACA recipient, Nathali Bertran engaged the man in a personal conversation.
He compared Dreamers to cutting in line at the amusement park — he wanted them to get in line when it came to immigration. To which Bertran responded, “There is no line.”
“After she told him her story and the immigration process and what she’s contributing to United States, he immediately apologized,” says DACA Time Co-Founder & CEO Brook Kohn.
He said he supported Bertran and others like her.
It was a big a-ha moment for the team. People needed to hear the personal stories; to understand the truths of the immigration system in order to make informed opinions.
Kohn says one of the biggest challenges they face is a general lack of understanding of DACA and the immigration system from the very top of the government down. People want to paint it as a black-and-white issue.
“What we’re trying to do is to illustrate a picture that’s more colorful, and not necessarily simplify a complex issue, but present it in a more digestible manner with facts and real people and real stories,” Kohn says.
In reality, Dreamers would love a “line” to get in for citizenship. DACA Time’s General Counsel Matthew Nierman explains that there are two major barriers to obtaining legal status if an individual is in the U.S. illegally.
“The U.S. government wants you to have been admitted and inspected at the border by an officer of some sort, and they want you to have a visa with good status while you’re here,” Nierman says.
If an individual illegally crossed the border, that’s already two strikes against them.
“Once you get into that position, there is not a whole lot that can be done for you except for DACA,” Nierman says.
The situational complexities grow from there. If an individual came into the country without inspection, the only way to “reset” it is to go out and come back. Depending on the length of time a person has already been in the country, they will be saddled with different penalties.
“You might be subject to an excessive amount of time that you’ll have to be out of the country before you come back,” Nierman says, with excessive sometimes meaning upwards of 10 to 15 years.
Although it is the only option that exists for many individuals, becoming a DACA recipient is not an easy process. DACA recipients are required to have a completely clean background – no crimes of violence, or drug or alcohol related infractions. There’s an FBI background check and a biometrics appointment. The first application is 200 plus pages. Each application and renewal costs $495 and generally requires the assistance of a lawyer – an expense of several hundred more dollars.
DACA recipients then receive an employment authorization (EAD) card and a social security number. They can apply for jobs and get a driver’s license – and also start paying taxes. Every two years, they do it all over again.
This is where DACA Time aims to ease the burden. Currently a paper-based application that individuals physically mail to the government, DACA Time’s software helps digitize the process.
As a part of the application, recipients have to prove they have been in the country for a certain amount of time through documentation: report cards, school transcripts, doctor’s records – something for about every three months. DACA Time’s innovation comes in a timeline interface that helps applicants visualize their presence in the country month by month and year by year, find their gaps and think about how to fill them with documentation.
The team is working with local product development company AWH and aiming for a late-May launch. DACA Time has established partnerships with various organizations around the country to build awareness of their product, but according to Co-Founder & COO Derek DeHart, reaching the estimated 6,000 DACA eligible individuals in Franklin County will require a lot of word of mouth outreach. The team plans to pound the pavement to get the undocumented community behind them.
Until then, DACA Time will continue to focus on education and advocacy.
“There’s so much work to be done in the education space, and in the financial aid space, and just how to get tools to go around your everyday life,” Bertran says.
Receiving DACA is the difference between not being able to do every-day tasks others take for granted: driving, seeing an R-rated movie, purchasing over the counter medications – and having some semblance of a normal life despite the taxing mental burden many illegal immigrants carry with them.
That “illegal” status is always there. Once a DACA recipient or illegal individual shares their story, there’s no taking it back. People will ask questions, often questions about other people’s statues. Parents are demonized while wrestling with feelings of guilt.
However, it’s by Dreamers putting their stories out there that minds begin to change – even if it just starts with one like the man at Festival Latino.
Bertran shares that many Dreamers are just trying to better themselves. They’ve been in the American education system. They’ve bought into the notion they can do anything here.
“They don’t feel themselves any different although society puts so many barriers to them,” Bertran says.
On Tuesday, May 8, DACA Time hosts the opening of Dreamers of Columbus, a showcase of DACA recipients living in Columbus, at the Main Branch of the Columbus Library, 96 S. Grant Ave. Click here for more information.
Learn more about DACA Time at dacatime.com.