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Deadline For DACA Renewals Quickly Approaching

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Trump has given the so-called DREAMers six months before he starts phasing out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program lets young immigrants in the U.S. illegally work and study without fear of deportation. Many of them face an earlier deadline, though. They must reapply for the program by tomorrow. And that has touched off a mad scramble, as WPLN's Julieta Martinelli reports from Nashville.

JULIETA MARTINELLI, BYLINE: Arturo Prieto is one of about 1,700 Tennesseans whose DACA permit expires before March. That's when Trump plans to start phasing out the program unless Congress acts. The young immigrants must reapply for the two-year permit and raise the $495 application fee by October 5.

ARTURO PRIETO: It was kind of, like, a panic mode with me and my family. It was kind of a desperate situation.

MARTINELLI: Almost 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents when they were children are DACA recipients. Most, like Prieto, came from Mexico. Prieto is a junior at Tribeca Nazarene University in Nashville studying business. He's taken more than a full-time course load and works construction on the weekends. It's a stretch to pay the tuition his four scholarships don't cover.

PRIETO: So yeah, it definitely affects your schoolwork. I consider myself a strong individual, but at that point, I felt really weak. I feel like everything I've done might happen for nothing.

MARTINELLI: Prieto is worried about his future but hopeful he can get help. Mexican consulates in the U.S. have began organizing legal clinics to help DACA recipients reapply. And Mexico has pledged to assist qualifying low-income applicants with the filing fees. Others are stepping up, too. In California, the nonprofit Mission Asset Fund has raised $2.5 million to cover the fees for thousands of applicants nationwide. And in Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo has been fundraising from private donors and pledged to cover every applicant in that state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GINA RAIMONDO: We're not going to let $495 stand in the way of someone's dreams.

MARTINELLI: Immigrant advocates are concerned that applicants may turn to high-interest payday loans. That's why the nonprofit the New Economy Project, which partners with two credit unions, is expanding their zero interest loan program for DACA applicants in New York. Many DACA recipients haven't had much time to build credit, and in undocumented homes, asking a parent to cosign is just not an option. Yuri Cunza is the president of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He says American citizens have easier access to traditional banks.

YURI CUNZA: And that's not the same for someone that just got here with absolutely no way to meet the criteria established by financial institutions in order to give you credit.

MARTINELLI: Many DREAMers have turned to the Internet for help. Through crowdfunding, some immigrant advocate groups have raised more than $50,000. Hundreds of personal pleas have also popped up.

DAYANA PARKER: I could at least raise some. Anything helps.

MARTINELLI: Dayana Parker a DREAMer who came from Mexico, is no longer pinning her hopes on DACA. Since Trump's announcement about ending the program, she's decided to pursue a different route. The 20-year-old from Lexington, Tenn., has been married to a U.S. citizen for two years. She has set up a GoFundMe to help raise the $3,000 she needs to apply for legal residency. So far, it hasn't taken off.

PARKER: Right now, I'm trying to get as many hours that I can at work and maybe, like, babysit a couple kids or something.

MARTINELLI: DACA recipients who don't have a path to citizenship can only hope Congress will come up with a way to protect them. Starting March, about a thousand permits are projected to expire every day. All DACA permits would expire by 2020. For NPR News, I'm Julieta Martinelli in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.