Last Saturday, as picnickers and sun worshippers relaxed in Dolores Park, 200 people spent the afternoon across the street in the cafeteria of Mission High School, filling out renewal applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The free legal workshop, organized by the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, was the final one of its kind before the Oct. 5 deadline for DACA renewal paperwork to be received by the Department of Homeland Security.

“This is really an emergency workshop, where we’re making sure that every DACA holder who’s eligible to apply doesn’t have to worry about fees, legal assistance, or even their passport photo,” said Adrienne Pon, executive director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. More than 100 people had RSVPed for Saturday’s event, Pon said, but dozens more showed up. Through an emergency grant from the city, her office covered the $495-plus filing fee for every person who attended.

The office and its partners — school districts, nonprofit organizations and legal groups throughout the Bay Area — have been holding events offering free legal help almost every day since Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Sept. 5 announcement that the Trump administration will end the DACA program. The program allows young adults who entered the country illegally as children to apply for a work permit and protection from deportation.

Workshop attendees came from across the Bay Area — and California — for the “one-stop-shop” event. Many lined up more than an hour before the 1 p.m. start time, having traveled from Pittsburg, Gilroy, San Mateo, Hayward and even Los Angeles. “This was the only event I heard of that could provide the financial assistance I needed,” said Carl, a 25-year-old who had taken a seven-hour bus ride from Los Angeles the night before. (He asked that his last name not be used.)

The Trump administration’s announcement to end DACA means that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will no longer accept first-time applications for the program, and that the Department of Homeland Security will no longer grant recipients permission to travel abroad. Renewal applications for DACA recipients whose work permits expire by March 5, 2018, must be received by DHS by Oct. 5.

The atmosphere in the high school was calm and friendly, despite the serious nature of the workshop. “We’re at that point today where it’s looking like the program is going to end, and there’s no legislature right now that’s going to fix that,” said Chenyu Wang, an immigration attorney for Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach who was providing pro bono services. He stood at the entrance of the cafeteria, where lawyers and volunteers had set up tables to assist people with their paperwork and provide legal advice.

Photo by Kelly Conner.

The end of DACA “puts a lot of kids back in the position they were before they had DACA, which meant not being able to have a good job, not being able to get many government services. They have to essentially go back to being second-class citizens and even worse. They’re worried that their families are in risk of deportation, that the jobs and lives that they built over the past couple of years are suddenly going to disappear,” Wang said.

Mayra Guizar, 22, shares those fears. Her DACA permit expired in May, which makes her ineligible to renew her status under the White House’s new policy. She had submitted her renewal application before the announcement, but she said it was rejected because she sent the fee in two money orders instead of one. Though the lawyer she spoke with at the workshop told her there’s no guarantee that her renewal will be successfully processed, Guizar remained optimistic.

Pulling her three-year-old son from the carrier on her boyfriend’s back and bouncing him on her hip, she talked about life before DACA. She had worked in a warehouse in Hayward where the conditions were “horrible,” and the supervisor verbally abused her and the other employees, calling them “illegals” and “wetbacks.” Before that, Guizar was a waitress and was paid under the table. Her boss harassed her, she recalled, but being young and undocumented, she felt that she couldn’t speak out.

In 2012, Guizar applied for and received a DACA permit. “It was a relief, because I was able to get a real job, you know?” She is currently a caseworker at the Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center in Hayward.

“I could feel like I actually mattered in a job. I could complain about something I wasn’t happy with.” Guizar said that the decision to end DACA means she may no longer be able to help her community. It could also mean that she would have to return to Mexico: “It would be terrible if I had to leave. I was brought here when I was only two, so not knowing anybody, going to a country where there’s a lot of terrorism — it’s really scary.”

Upcoming workshops

These DACA renewal workshops will be held around the Bay Area before the Oct. 5 deadline:

Wednesday, Sept. 27, 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.
Fair Oaks Community Center, 2600 Middlefield Road, Redwood City
Sponsored by: International Institute of the Bay Area. Register by calling (650) 780-7530 or emailing redwoodcity@iibayarea.org.

Wednesday, Sept. 27, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 
Where: 2362 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Sponsored by: East Bay Sanctuary Covenant

Thursday, Sept. 28, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Central High School, 85 Tilton Avenue, Morgan Hill
Sponsored by: Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network. RSVP to info@siren-bayarea.org

Thursday, Sept. 28, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 1:30 pm to 5 p.m.
Where: 701 Vine St. #115, San Jose
Sponsored by: Center for Employment Training. Call (408)-534-5451 to confirm.

Friday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 1415 Koll Circle, Suite 108, San Jose
Sponsored by: Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network. RSVP to info@siren-bayarea.org

Sunday, Oct. 1, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 2362 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Sponsored by: East Bay Sanctuary Covenant

Monday, Oct. 2, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Richmond Service Center, 217 Harbour Way, Richmond
Sponsored by: Catholic Charities of the East Bay. RSVP to mjacques@cceb.org

Monday, Oct. 2, 12 p.m.
Where: 36 37th Ave., San Mateo
Sponsored by: Catholic Charities of San Mateo. Call (650) 295-2160 to confirm.

Tuesday, Oct. 3, 9:30 a.m.
Where: 532 Folsom St., San Francisco
Sponsored by: Catholic Charities of San Mateo. Call (650) 295-2160 to confirm.

Tuesday, Oct. 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 1415 Koll Circle, Suite 108, San Jose
Sponsored by: Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network. RSVP to info@siren-bayarea.org

Apply for application fee coverage from the Mission Asset Fund by Friday, Sept. 29, here: http://lc4daca.org/