Summit aims to answer DACA recipients’ questions as program nears its end

Edilsa Lopez is a DACA recipient who works as an accountant in Austin (KXAN Photo)
Edilsa Lopez is a DACA recipient who works as an accountant in Austin (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Edilsa Lopez came to the United States when she was 13, fleeing a violent father in Guatemala. She settled in, got a work permit through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program — then she worked two jobs and became a student at UT Austin. Now, she faces the reality that she and thousands of other workers in Texas may have to leave.

“We are giving back, we’re working, we’re paying our taxes,” Lopez said.

This weekend entrepreneurs and immigration advocates plan to host a summit for DACA recipients like Lopez, who is one of more than 120,000 living in Texas, the state with the second-highest number after California. Nearly three months after the Trump administration announced an end to the program, the groups hope to answer questions about what comes next.

In announcing the end of the federal program, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it’s taken away hundreds of thousands of jobs from American workers and contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors crossing into the country illegally, which “yielded terrible humanitarian consequences.” DACA opponents also say the program hurt wages for other workers and amounted to executive amnesty granted by former President Obama.

The current administration ended the program for constitutional reasons, saying the executive branch did not have authority to rewrite immigration law; still, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to find a way to keep DACA recipients, many of whom came to the U.S. as young children and know this as their home, in the country, as President Trump urged Congress to do in September.

The companies that employ DACA workers want to figure out how to keep them, too.

“We would be losing brilliant, hardworking, talented people,” said Hector Leiva, communications manager for the charter school chain KIPP Austin Public Schools. Losing those workers permanently, he said, would affect the company at all levels, from students and families to faculty and staff.

“Things like being able to provide meals at the right times, being able to coordinate buses, front office at the schools would be impacted,” Leiva said. The charter schools would have to find people to replace the workers, and he said they’ve already found the employees they want who are dedicated to working with the largely-Latino student body.

Business leaders said the loss of workers would have a nationwide effect as well. The gross domestic product would take a massive hit — to the tune of nearly $500 billion — if the nearly 800,000 DACA workers leave the country. Trump gave Congress a six-month window to figure out what to do about the workers before the program draws to a close. Recipients could still get two-year permit renewals in the meantime.

Lopez, who does accounting for a different company, hopes to keep working, too; but a deadline is approaching fast. “My DACA expires four days from now,” she said Thursday, and without the renewal that she’s been assured is on its way, she won’t be able to hold the job.

“I’m kind of tired – very exhausted, I will say — of trying to figure out how to move to the next level,” she said.

The summit is Saturday at 701 Brazos Street from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mayor Steve Adler will speak, and there are also a number of panels and speakers — including how Austin can support undocumented youth, opportunities for DACA recipients who must return to Mexico and what rights DACA recipients have. It is free and open to the public, and people can get more detailed information on the event website.

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