Local attorney Josh Nuñez offered free legal help to DACA recipients renewing their permits.EXPAND
Local attorney Josh Nuñez offered free legal help to DACA recipients renewing their permits.
Courtesy of Josh Nuñez

Phoenix Lawyer's Offer to Help DACA Recipients for Free Goes Viral on Facebook

Josh Nuñez has no one to blame but himself for being so busy this week.

The Phoenix attorney and founder of the immigration-focused law firm Nuñez and Associates has received an influx of thousands of calls and messages in the last two days asking for legal help with renewing their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, paperwork.

It's his own fault. Just after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that President Donald Trump’s administration would scrap DACA — which protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors from deportation — with a six-month delay to allow Congress to act, Nuñez took to Facebook.

In a post that morning, he said his firm would offer free legal help to DACA recipients who were eligible to renew their program, which they needed to reapply for every two years, as per the Obama-era requirements. The post went viral. It was shared 40,000 times.

“Our phones have been 100 percent swamped every minute of every hour,” Nuñez said.

His firm usually charges $250 per client for DACA renewals;  some lawyers will charge $700 to $1,500 for their services, Nuñez says. Now he’s serving some 22 clients a day completely pro bono until October 5. Clients still have to pay a $495 application fee to the government.

Nuñez feels compelled to help as many of the callers as he can. And he’s on a tight deadline.

Thanks to the new administration’s move to rescind the program, DACA recipients whose status expire by March 5, 2018, have the option to reapply for DACA until October 5.

After being swarmed by calls for legal help from Dreamers both in and out of state, Nuñez says his firm is completely booked up for the month. Next Tuesday, he has 22 appointments scheduled, and he says things ramp up from there.

Nuñez says he’s “turning on all engines,” so to speak, with three attorneys and seven staff members fitting in double-digit 30-minute consultations back to back every day for the next month.

He knows he'll be losing money but he says a lot can be gained in Arizona from helping those whose lives could be disrupted by the Trump administration's decision to end DACA.

“These Dreamers live and die by political wind,” he said.

You’d think the firm would be in a legal tailspin after being swarmed with messages, but Nuñez's voice remains calm and even and his high-rise office on Central Avenue remains neat and orderly, save for the clogged phone lines. Everything appears in its place, right down to the wooden gavel on the front desk.

He says it took him by surprise that his post went viral — but he wasn’t shocked by the level of demand.

About 28,000 Arizona Dreamers are currently enrolled in the program. Nuñez says when former President Barack Obama rolled out DACA in 2012, he participated in drives offering legal help to those first applying for the program. He says even though the same level of urgency wasn’t there, he saw as many as 500 people attend the drive on any given day.

“We knew this demographic well,” Nunez said. “We work with Dreamers all the time. ... We’ve seen their lives transformed by having a legitimate work permit, seen them go to college, get jobs, buy houses — we’ve seen them, in essence, be able to integrate into society in a legitimate way.”

Nuñez says the decision to quash DACA hit him hard. He has relatives who are DACA recipients and has seen many friends and clients benefit from the program.

“When we heard Sessions’ announcement — the first feeling you get is a feeling of despair and anger and indignation at the fact that these kids are going to lose work permits and protection and be disposed to potential deportation,” Nuñez said. “But that sense of despair and anger lasted 20 to 25 minutes for me. I was just upset and not happy about situation, but immediately after the pity party, I thought, ‘We need to lock arms and protect our community.’”

Reyna Montoya, a Dreamer and the founder of the youth-led immigrant rights group Aliento, is working with Nuñez and this community to organize three DACA drives where legal help will be provided at the end of the month.

But Montoya herself won’t be able to benefit from the drive. Her DACA permit expires in October of 2018.

“I’m one of those people in line that can get deported,” Montoya said.

She's not alone. A CATO Institute study showed that only about 24 percent of DACA recipients, or 190,000, qualify to reapply for the program.

But Montoya won’t give up.

“It’s terrifying,” she said. “Anybody would feel really anxious. But at the same time, I am determined to get going and determined to fight. If the government is going to allow injustice to happen, then people need to know, and I’m going to engage with my members of Congress and elected officials.”

Nuñez says this determination and willingness to fight injustice from Dreamers is may have been a factor in the traction his Facebook post garnered.

“In terms of what this represents to me, I think it showcases the fact that people will rally,” Nuñez said. “This community will rally and, even though they took a sucker punch to face, so to speak, because of DACA being rescinded, they’re rallying to renew permits and hopefully extend for another two years. It showcases to me that dreamers are very resilient."

How to help and receive help:

DACA renewal fees cost $495 per applicant through the government. Local organizations have come together to fundraise for the fees. You can donate to help a DACA recipient here.

With help of local community partners, DACA drives will be scheduled for September 16, 23, and 30. Locations and details will be provided by Aliento in the coming days.

Nuñez got an array of calls this week from states such as Florida, California, and Oregon. If you live out of state and need help renewing DACA, you can find more immediate help by contacting a local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Associations.

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