Rhode Island organizations and Gov. Gina M. Raimondo have made a concerted effort to retain the state’s so-called “Dreamers,” including covering their application fees for a temporary work permit that prevents their deportation.
The Trump administration’s decision in early September to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in March 2018 set in motion a deadline scramble in the Ocean State.
The program refers to undocumented immigrants, mostly young adults, who were brought into the United States as children by their parents without immigration approval. They later received temporary work permits under an Obama administration program that would allow them to remain for two years in the United States and not face deportation.
At least 1,200 Rhode Islanders now have DACA status, according to Raimondo’s office. Some 250 to 350 of them have eligibility that will expire by March, and will need to reapply for DACA by Oct. 5 if they want to continue to stay in the U.S.
In an announcement Sept. 19 that attracted national media attention, the Democratic governor said a coalition, led by the Rhode Island Foundation, had raised $170,000 in commitments from donors to cover the $495 renewal fee for Dreamers in Rhode Island.
None of this involves state funding, although Raimondo has appointed a staff member to serve as a liaison to the community-based efforts to help the DACA recipients.
Raimondo told Rhode Island Public Radio she was motivated to raise the funds after participating in a march, and listening as an immigration lawyer explained the fee and that time to renew was running out.
“We’re not going to allow $495 to stand in the way of our neighbors’ dreams,” she said in a news release.
Despite the private fundraising, Mike Stenhouse, founder and CEO of the conservative policy group Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, said the effort does raise some concerns.
“We applaud [RIF] for privately using funds to back a cause its supporters feel is important. Not everything involves a government solution,” he said. “[What we question] is the apparent priority it has taken within the administration.
“We’re wondering why the larger Rhode Island population has not garnered an equally energetic response from this governor,” Stenhouse said.
Raimondo could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to research published in November 2016 in the Journal of Public Economics, about 50,000 to 75,000 unauthorized immigrant “Dreamers” nationwide are now employed, a sign of the program’s economic benefits.
Neil D. Steinberg, RIF president and CEO, said the local effort addresses DACA recipients who are also Rhode Islanders. “This was an immediate need. It had a very short time frame,” he said. “They are our students, our neighbors, our friends, our future workforce.”