In early November, Camille Mackler ’06 began hearing reports that immigrants seeking to renew their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status were being denied. The reason: Their paperwork arrived to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services past the agency’s October 5 renewal deadline.
Mackler, who is Director of Immigration Legal Policy for the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), knew that many DACA recipients had mailed their renewal forms within days of the Trump administration’s September 5 announcement ending the program, providing a cushion of three or more weeks for the documents to reach USCIS’s Chicago offices.
She worked with legal service providers to formally document examples of applicants rejected due to the mail delay, drawing on a network of collaborators she had formed in early 2017 in the wake of coordinating legal services at JFK Airport.
Mackler also spread word of the rejections on her Facebook page, and media attention soon followed. On November 10, The New York Times ran a story.
In the story, the Postal Service acknowledged that the delayed mailings were due to a processing error. Still, initially, USCIS told reporters that its deadline stood.
Mackler and colleagues then sent a letter to the Postmaster General asking for an explanation of the delays and help urging USCIS to accept applications delayed in the mail. Within days, USCIS agreed to honor those late renewals.
Legal services organizations celebrated the policy change. To Mackler, the turnaround demonstrated the importance of media attention to immigration issues.
“Immigration is complicated, and people don’t understand it,” she says. “Lawyers often get into the weeds, but press can help tell stories simply and clearly.”
Mackler and her colleagues are continuing efforts to preserve DACA and Temporary Protected Status, another designation that allows certain immigrants to legally live and work in the U.S. The NYIC has engaged in campaigns, public gatherings, and days of action—and plans a large Washington, D.C. rally on December 6.
Mackler’s core work at the NYIC involves issues of access to justice and access to counsel. Her policy priorities in the coming year include pushing for greater access to legal services for immigrants, especially in rural parts of New York, and monitoring law enforcement practices.
“On Long Island, gang enforcement and immigration enforcement are often unfairly mixed,” she says.
Mackler majored in International Politics at Georgetown University. NYLS sparked her interest in immigration law.
“I wouldn’t have been an immigration lawyer if not for Professor Lenni Benson and [former Adjunct] Professors Lindsay Curcio and Claudia Slovinsky,” she says.
“I remember in my second or third year at NYLS, Professor Benson said, ‘I can’t imagine that Camille will be anything other than an immigration lawyer.’ That stuck with me.”
Mackler is happy to see the growth of NYLS’s immigration law programming, which includes its new Asylum Clinic, launched this fall to assist refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries. The Asylum Clinic builds on the success of NYLS’s existing Immigration Law and Litigation Clinic, which represents children and teenagers in immigration court.
“Immigration is so tied to where this country is going,” she says. “Whether you do business immigration law and you’re helping to bring in the next wave of Fortune 500 founders, or working with asylum seekers and helping our country uphold its traditions of welcoming immigrants, you’ll be part of something much bigger than yourself in this field.”
She also emphasizes the importance of collaboration among legal service providers.
“The DACA reversal wouldn’t have happened if lawyers hadn’t come together,” she says. “We recognized there was an issue before anyone else did. Your work as a lawyer can go beyond individuals and have a broad impact.”
Read two The New York Times stories about the DACA renewals; both stories quote Mackler.