Cindy Moncada (lower right) with her daughter Isabella Olarte-Moncada, and her parents Cesar and Yesenia Moncada.

Cindy Moncada (lower right) with her daughter Isabella Olarte-Moncada, and her parents Cesar and Yesenia Moncada.

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Cindy Moncada (lower right) with her daughter Isabella Olarte-Moncada, and her parents Cesar and Yesenia Moncada.
Photo courtesy of Cindy Moncada

As a single mom, 30 year-old Cindy Moncada lives with her parents in Jackson Heights, Queens for the extra support of family, and to save money. But she also chips in to help her working parents cover the bills.

“I pay the light bill, you know, I try to help them financially cause I know it can be a lot,” she said.

Moncada was able to help out more after receiving DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) four years ago. She was 12 when she crossed the Texas border illegally with a family friend to join her parents in New York. 

Her parents eventually won Temporary Protected Status after Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in 1998 —another protection from deportation that the Trump administration plans to end. But Moncada had no status before DACA and said she worked for minimum wage at a cleaning agency after dropping out of high school to raise her daughter.

With DACA, she said she got health insurance, a driver's license and a higher paying job in child care. She’s also saving up to finish college and wants to become an interior designer. So there’s a lot on the line for her if the Supreme Court ends the Obama-era program that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The court heard arguments last year and a ruling is expected this month.

“I do not want to go back in the shadows,” said Moncada. “I do not want to fear if I’m going to be deported. I do not want to go back to a country that I don’t know about.” 

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That’s why Moncada applied last month to renew her DACA status far ahead of time. Her work authorization isn’t scheduled to expire until early next year. But renewing now could give her another two-year authorization, according to Oliva Haas, a paralegal at Central American Legal Assistance in Brooklyn.

“Practitioners feel pretty confident that if the Supreme Court ruling strikes down DACA, that DACA recipients will be able to be protected and have their deferred action and employment authorization for the two years if it’s renewed,” she explained. 

That’s what happened when Trump ended the program in 2017. No one could be deported while their authorization was still in effect. Legal challenges have kept those protections in place while the Supreme Court considers the matter.

Haas said she sent out emails in March to DACA recipients she’s helped over the years, and about 100 renewed early. She called it a “staggering” amount of her caseload of 600-700. Another immigration services provider, Make the Road New York, said it’s helped 200 DACA recipients apply for renewal since mid-March, many of them far ahead of schedule.

Normally, getting a renewal “even 6 months in advance is very out of the ordinary,” Haas explained. She said she’s surprised that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is processing the applications quickly, given the pandemic, but noted DACA does bring in fees for the financially struggling agency

Christopher Mendoza Carrasco, 24, applied to renew even though his work authorization doesn’t expire until next April. He came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a child, and is now an Emergency Medical Technician in Queens. He said he’s been working long, difficult days during the pandemic. But he seemed more rattled by the thought of losing his protection from deportation.

“It’s scary,” he said, adding “I don’t have full control of my future, putting my life in like a limbo.” He still hopes to become a city firefighter some day. He became an EMT instead, he said, because he needed to have a green card to work for the FDNY.

DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, have been highly engaged by the Supreme Court case and are still urging Congress to create a path to full legalization for themselves and other young people who are undocumented, as well as their parents. Roughly 700,000 DACA recipients live in the U.S., including 30,000 in New York City.

Applying for renewal costs $495. Haas said that’s been a big lift for many of her clients, especially those who are out of work because of the pandemic. Moncada hasn’t worked since March and she received financial aid so she could apply for renewal last month. Just ordering takeout burritos for her and her 12 year-old daughter last week was a rare treat.

“It’s all about taking chances,” she said, about the need to reapply early. “It’s all about taking the risk and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Beth Fertig is a senior reporter covering immigration, courts, and legal affairs at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @bethfertig.