(Photo courtesy of Carol Kuniholm)
When Alejandra Meleán came over to New Jersey from her native Venezuela, she was 11 years old.
The year was 2004. Going back to Venezuela, where inflation and crime rates were already rising, wasn’t an option for her or her mother Laura Márquez. After no paths to legal residency opened up for them, they ended up overstaying their tourist visas.
“It was ignorance,” Márquez confesses with regret in her voice. “I had no orientation and didn’t know how to become a resident.” Time went by for the family until 2013, when Alejandra applied for and joined the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was rescinded yesterday in a curt announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“That’s how I get to work and have a driver’s license,” Meleán tells Technical.ly. “Luckily I was able to renew it in July and now I have until 2019 to figure things out what’s next. If Congress doesn’t do anything, then I don’t know. That’s what we all fear: what will happen next.”
(Immigration can be really, really tricky. Here’s a quick explainer from NPR on what the now-defunct program entailed and what’s coming)
The 24-year-old, who works at a South Jersey prescription glasses retailer, has 22 months to find a solution to her immigration-status woes before facing deportation, along with 800,000 other immigrants.
For all those impacted by yesterday’s decision, some 5,900 of whom live in Pennsylvania, a local tech startup wants to help. Borderwise, the makers of an online immigration application platform based out of WeWork’s Walnut Street spot, rolled out a pay-what-you-can policy for DACA holders who are eligible for a family-based green card.
For clarity’s sake, being eligible for that type of green card means having either:
- a spouse, a child 21 years old or over, parent, or sibling who is a U.S. citizen, or
- a spouse or parent who is a permanent resident (to be sponsored by parents, immigrants must be unmarried).
“I haven’t been able to find out what percentage of the Dreamers [as DACA recipients are also known] are eligible for a family-based green card, but we’ve already helped several and I know there are many more,” said cofounder Jeremy Peskin in an email. “Our usual fee is affordable, but we want to make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind.”
Applications to qualify for the program can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through the startup’s platform, DACA recipients can prepare their application online, have their application reviewed for free by a pro bono immigration lawyer in Borderwise’s network and consult with the lawyer about their application and next steps.
As for Alejandra’s mother, she says going back to Venezuela is something she doesn’t even think about (can you blame her?). The onus is now on Congress to lay out what the next steps for families like her are.