After US mail screwup, cut Dreamers a break

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Story highlights

  • Raul Reyes: Postal delay kept renewals of DACA applications from reaching immigration officials
  • Reyes: Postal service admits snafu, but immigration agency leaves Dreamers vulnerable to deportation

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)We messed up, but it is still your problem.

That is what the government is essentially telling young immigrants whose Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, renewals did not arrive on time, due to delays with the US Postal Service.
    After Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September that the Trump administration was ending the DACA program, immigrant youths -- known as Dreamers -- scrambled to obtain one last renewal of their temporary grant of deportation relief before an October 5 deadline. But according to an article in The New York Times, lawyers for DACA applicants said there are at least 34 DACA applications from the New York metro area that were rejected because of unusually long Postal Service delays.
    In Chicago, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Illinois, has identified at least 21 cases in which DACA applications were denied by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services because the post office didn't deliver them in time.
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    In one instance, a New York lawyer mailed her client's application on September 14, three weeks in advance, via certified mail. In a Chicago case, an applicant sent his renewal on September 13. Neither of these were received until October 6, after the deadline. Some applications sat at a Chicago processing center for up to 20 days before being delivered late, according to The New York Times account.
    What is unusual here is that the Postal Service has admitted that it was at fault. A spokesman for the Post Office told the Times that there had been an "unintentional temporary mail processing delay in the Chicago area." Despite this, the government is denying the delayed DACA renewals anyway, making these young people potentially eligible for deportation.
    The government's position on these DACA renewals flies in the face of common sense, reason and compassion. It is emblematic of the Trump administration's overall hostility to immigrants, both legal and undocumented.
    The young immigrants at the center of this controversy are people who have done things by the rules. Many did not intend to come to the United States illegally; they were brought here by their parents as children. To be covered by DACA, they passed the background checks and met other requirements. They were doing their best to meet an abrupt deadline set by the government, one that the government did not even notify immigrants about.
    From the time of the Sessions announcement, Dreamers had only one month to get their paperwork together -- along with the $495 fee -- and apply for a renewal.
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    About 22,000 DACA recipients have already lost their protection from deportation, according to Dara Lind, reporting for Vox, and this may well be because they didn't hear about the deadline or couldn't come up with the money to reapply in time.
    Now the government wants to deny relief to more Dreamers because of the highly irregular post office snafu. This serves no legitimate policy goal. These young people should not be punished for the government's mistakes -- and these few dozen cases are the only ones that we know about.
    In contrast, in 2001 the government offered an opportunity for permanent residency for immigrants through the LIFE Act (the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act), which offered legal status to some undocumented immigrants with family members who were US citizens petitioning on their behalf. That law came with a deadline of April 30 of that year. But because of the expected high volume of applicants, it allowed a grace period for applications, as long as they were received by May 3. Donald Trump's administration is showing no such flexibility with DACA.
    There is legal precedent known as the "presumption of mailing" that holds that when a letter is properly addressed, it can be presumed to have been delivered. So there wasn't anything the DACA recipients at the center of this controversy could have done differently. Yet because the deferred action program was created by executive action, and not by statute, there is no appealing the government's decision. Absent action by Congress by March 3, these young people will find themselves at risk of detention and deportation.
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    Some Trump administration insiders may think being absolute hard-liners on immigration plays well with their base. However, 70% of people who approve of Trump's performance as President want DACA to continue, according to an SSRS study conducted for CNN in September.
    True, due to congressional inaction, our country has made zero progress on comprehensive immigration reform. Still, it is hard to see how national security benefits from punishing people because of bureaucratic incompetence. It makes no sense, unless viewed as part of the larger pattern of xenophobia we've seen under Trump.
    His administration has eliminated the Obama-era immigration enforcement priorities, sowing fear in immigrant communities and putting all undocumented people at risk of removal. It has sought limits on legal immigration. It has begun dismantling the Temporary Protection Status program for Central Americans.
    It is ironic that an administration populated by officials and senior advisers with myriad ethical and legal lapses of their own nonetheless holds vulnerable immigrants to the highest standards of compliance with the law. Ironic -- and troubling.
    The US Citizenship and Immigration Services' position on the belated DACA renewals is unfair, pointless and cruel. Sadly, under this administration, it is also totally predictable.