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The Postal Service kept him from renewing his DACA. He ended up in immigration detention.

Pennsylvania father Osman Enriquez was released from detention on Thursday evening.

immigration detention

(Update: Osman Aroche Enriquez was released from detention on Thursday, December 14. More information is available here. The below story is preserved in its original form but is no longer current.)

A former DACA recipient who was waiting to reapply for deportation protections, after his initial application was rejected due to postal service delays, is currently in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Pennsylvania, Vox has exclusively learned.

Osman Enriquez, who was picked up by ICE Monday morning after a routine traffic stop, is one of the estimated 12,000 immigrants who have lost their DACA protections since the Trump administration started winding down the program in September.

In theory, these immigrants were given a chance to apply for one last two-year extension of their protections and work permits. But many missed the tight deadline imposed by the administration — just one month from the day they announced the sunsetting of the program — and others saw their applications rejected by the government for being late, after languishing for weeks at a United States Postal Service processing center in Chicago.

Enriquez is among those immigrants. According to the Trump administration, he’s supposed to wait to be invited to reapply by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Instead, he’s being put on the road to deportation. (DHS did not respond to a request for comment.)

Enriquez might be the first known case of an immigrant getting detained by ICE after his DACA expired under the administration’s new rules. He’s almost certainly the first known case of an immigrant getting detained while waiting to reapply for DACA renewal.

His presence there is perhaps the most vivid reminder yet that as Congress drags out what to do about DACA recipients, it will probably be too late for some.

A typical DACA recipient becomes a detainee

Osman Enriquez is a pretty typical DACA recipient. He’s a 27-year-old from Guatemala who graduated from a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, high school and now works in stonemasonry. He was convicted of a “summary offense” (a minor crime) as a juvenile, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from qualifying for, and getting, protection under DACA. His fiancée has a green card, and their son, who’s not quite a year old, was born in the United States.

When the Trump administration announced on September 5 that it would end DACA, Enriquez’s work permit was set to expire in a little over a month — on October 15. According to the administration, that made him (and 154,000 other DACA recipients whose work permits were set to expire before March 5, 2018) eligible to apply for a two-year renewal of protections — but only if they got their applications in by October 5.

Enriquez went to the Lancaster office of immigrant advocacy and legal services organization Church World Service for help with his renewal application. According to Carrie Carranza of CWS, his application was mailed September 18. “His application was mailed out at same time as many other DACA applications that have now been approved,” she told Vox on Wednesday.

But Enriquez wasn’t so lucky. His application arrived at the USCIS service center in Chicago on October 10 — three weeks after he mailed it, and five days after the deadline. It was rejected.

At the time, Carranza says, they didn’t really understand what had happened; “We told him, ‘We’re so sorry this happened; you did everything right; it was just a fluke, a debacle, out of your control.’”

It turns out the scope of the “debacle” was beyond anything she could imagine. It is likely that thousands of DACA renewal applications were mailed in advance of the deadline but were slowed down by USPS delays — including many that were received at government dropboxes on October 5 but were rejected because they were not picked up until the next day.

When reports from the New York Times and Vox highlighted the problem in November, USCIS reversed itself, declaring that immigrants whose DACA renewals had been mailed on time would be given the chance to reapply.

In guidance issued at the end of November (and included in the current FAQs about DACA on the USCIS website), the government says, “The USPS is working with USCIS to identify DACA requests that were received after the deadline due to USPS mail-service delays” — like Enriquez’s.

“As soon as USPS completes its assessment, identifies such requests, and provides this information to USCIS, USCIS will send affected DACA requestors a letter inviting them to resubmit their DACA request. If you receive such a letter, you will have 33 calendar days from the date of the letter to resubmit your request.”

The FAQ estimates that the Postal Service assessment will be done by “mid-December,” and that USCIS will send invitations to reapply about a week after that.

But in the meantime, Enriquez was in limbo. His work permit had expired, but he still had to work to support his family; his driver’s license had expired, because it was only valid as long as he had DACA, but he still needed to drive to get to work.

On Monday morning — six days before his son’s first birthday — as Enriquez drove down Route 83 to his contracting job, he was pulled over by a Pennsylvania State Police officer. The officer told him his vehicle registration had expired. Enriquez’s fiancée says the family thought they had kept their registration current; since Pennsylvania doesn’t put registration-date stickers on license plates, Carranza speculates that the only way the trooper would have known Enriquez’s registration had lapsed would be if she’d run his license plates when he drove by.

Enriquez was ultimately issued a ticket not for the expired registration, but for his expired driver’s license. But in the meantime, Carranza says, the state police officer had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to come pick up Enriquez. ICE agents took him to the York detention center and served him with a notice to appear in immigration court — formally starting deportation proceedings against him.

Two days later, Enriquez is still in detention. Unless something changes, he’ll miss his son’s birthday on Saturday.

The Trump administration made this inevitable, and only Congress can stop it from getting worse

Advocates and Democrats, extrapolating from USCIS numbers, have estimated that 122 immigrants will lose their DACA protections every day between October 5 and March 5. (That doesn’t count the immigrants arrested by ICE despite still having DACA, or whose DACA protections have been stripped from them after an arrest.)

But despite fears that ICE would use the information contained in DACA applications to track down and arrest immigrants, there don’t appear to have been any cases (at least, not any known to the public) in which immigrants who have lost DACA after September have actually been detained. Until now.

But what happened to Enriquez is the inevitable outcome of the way the Trump administration wound down DACA. It gave immigrants an unusually short amount of time to apply for renewal, then enforced stricter-than-usual rules about what counted as a timely application. Their current plan to allow some immigrants affected by mail delays to reapply still puts many immigrants at risk of a gap between one work permit expiring and a new one being issued. And during that time, working, driving, and existing in the US put DACA-eligible immigrants at just as much risk of deportation as any other unauthorized immigrant.

You can’t understand the current debate in Congress over how and when to help DACA recipients without understanding this phenomenon. Elected Democrats are extremely aware that people are losing DACA every day, and many moderate Republicans also note that the program is less effective the longer it’s allowed to wind down. But Republican leadership isn’t thinking about the program’s efficacy; it’s focused on the March 5 “deadline” set by the White House, and sees no need to take action before then.

At present, Democrats are trying to figure out if the urgency of DACA is enough to withhold votes on a must-pass government funding bill days before Christmas — risking a government shutdown — or whether to allow the issue to fall into 2018. If they pick the latter, they’ll have to hope that Republicans see the March 5 deadline as a serious deadline, like a government funding bill, and not a “deadline” like funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (which Congress has allowed to lapse for 73 days and counting).

And in the meantime, Osman Enriquez, and perhaps others like him, will be waiting in a detention cell for Congress to make up its mind.

CORRECTION: This article originally identified the CWS staffer in Lancaster as “Carrie Hussein,” a name she no longer goes by. Her name is now Carrie Carranza.