A deadline is fast approaching to renew DACA permits expiring between now and March 5, 2017.
The end of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month.
Since then, Border Patrol agents have been screening DACA recipients at Texas checkpoints.
Maria Hernandez is one of them and is speaking out.
“This is the least time to be fearful. This is the time to act,” she said.
The 25-year-old escaped family violence in Mexico when she was 4 years old. Brought to the U.S. by her grandmother, Hernandez grew up in Alamo, Texas and graduated from college at Texas A&M-Kingsville before landing a job at an immigrant child reunification organization.
“Everything was falling into place,” she said.
But then things began to change.
Hernandez was told by a Border Patrol agent to pull over at the Sarita, Texas checkpoint on Highway 77 last week. It’s a road she travels twice a month when visiting family at the border.
The DACA recipient had heard stories that the Border Patrol was conducting stops at another checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas. She didn't understand why agents were conducting these stops.
“'I want to be informed as to why you’re doing this,’ she asked the agents. “And then they just said, ‘Oh, we were just instructed to.’ I’m like ‘Well, was there a memo?’”
A memorandum or directive is precisely what the KENS 5 Border Bureau has been requesting from the Border Patrol, and the organization has refused to provide us with any documents. But a memo was obtained by KRGV-TV from a protected source in the department and was shared with us.
In the memo, the acting chief of the Border Patrol instructs all agents that encounter DACA beneficiaries to verify their status and look for any warrants or criminal history even though DACA recipients already get screened by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when applying and renewing their work permits.
“’If you’re not a criminal you’re fine,’" Hernandez recalled the agent saying. “Well, ok. Anyone can be a criminal. Any kind of status can be a criminal but you’re just targeting a group."
The memo indicates that the order is part of the "wind-down" process to phase out DACA by March 5.
Border Patrol is not saying if this instruction is being enforced at airports or at any other checkpoints.
In some cases, DACA recipients are detained for up to six hours, disrupting their travel. In Hernandez’s case, it was two hours. Hernandez believes that this is a scare tactic and wants to warn others of what to expect.
“’This is going to happen every time I pass?’" Hernandez recalled asking the agent. “And they’re like, ‘Yes.’”
USCIS is no longer accepting new DACA applications. Recipients whose permits expire between September 5 and March 5 have until October 5 to file a renewal. Congress is currently working on legislation to address the issue.