See more of the story

Paralegal Kellie Rock guided the 26-year-old woman at her side through the raft of paperwork. Country of her last passport? The woman wrote down El Salvador. Date of arrival? The woman recorded 2003. Place of arrival? The woman wrote Texas.

"If you crossed the borders without papers, you write 'no legal status,' " Rock told her.

The woman wrote that down, too.

It had become a familiar, tiring ritual for the legal staff and immigrants in this Saturday workshop in south Minneapolis, as August marked 10 years since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program began accepting applications. Every two years, participants file paperwork to renew their status as they wait for lawmakers to enact a permanent solution for the 800,000 participants brought here as juveniles without legal documentation.

"This 10-year anniversary isn't really something to celebrate," said Rock, an organizer at the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC), which hosted the event at El Colegio High School in Minneapolis. "It's more of a frustration for people because we've been waiting and waiting and nothing has been passed."

President Obama announced DACA as a temporary initiative in 2012 after intense immigrant activism and the failed passage of the DREAM Act that would have given undocumented young residents legal status and a route to citizenship. The program shields participants from deportation and grants them work permits, but they still face various restrictions and lack any lasting protections. President Trump unsuccessfully tried to end the program in 2017, and legal challenges have continued. A federal judge in Texas last year ruled the program was unlawful, and an appeals court heard arguments on the case in July. President Biden has said the White House is working on a rule to codify the policy, but only Congress can give the so-called Dreamers lasting relief.

"We're used as pawns … and it's quite frustrating with this anniversary coming up," said Sarahi Silva, a volunteer at the workshop. "People ask us to tell our stories, but we're actually very tired of telling our stories. Unfortunately, we're tired of not being … considered a part of the U.S. and still contributing so much financially. And it's quite mentally exhausting, and accountability needs to be taken."

She added: "Ten years later, we're still right where we started."

Silva's family brought her to the United States from Mexico in the 90s, when she was 6 years old. Now 32, she works as a community health organizer and recently started looking into how to buy a home. It's harder because she has no long-term security.

"It's allowed me to not be afraid; it's allowed me to obtain a better job financially," she said. "But it also has its limits, right? You can only do so much."

MIRAC has annually hosted a workshop with legal volunteers to help DACA recipients fill out their renewal applications, and it pays the fees of the first 30 people to arrive. The procedure is otherwise costly: Rock said attorneys at her firm charge $750 to handle the applications. Participants must pay another $495 to the U.S. government.

Mariana Espinosa still remembers going to the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota for help filling out her first DACA application in 2012. It took a week to come up with the extensive records needed to complete her paperwork.

"My God, that's a long time ago!" she recalled, chuckling. "I was fresh out of high school back then."

Espinosa has an associate degree in early childhood education and this week will return to school to become a licensed teacher. She came to the workshop Saturday out of caution — Espinosa knows the stakes are high when it comes to immigration filings.

Espinosa, 27, left Mexico in 2003 at age 7. She has memories of lying in a hammock under a pomegranate tree with her beloved grandmother making up silly stories. But she couldn't attend her grandmother's funeral in 2017 because DACA recipients are rarely able to leave the country.

"In some way I feel like I am protected, but for how long?" she said. "That's always my question."

Rock's first client of the day was a soft-spoken 19-year-old man from Mexico and his mother. Had he ever been to immigration court? He hadn't. What was he studying in college? General studies, for now. He wasn't working at all, right? He wrote down no. His was a simple case, and Rock directed him to an attorney in the corner to finish his filing.

Then came the 26-year-old woman. She was a hospital operations coordinator also going to college for a biology degree, and she wanted to attend medical school.

They worked to estimate her expenses and income. Rent? $1,550. Did she have a car? No. Health insurance? She was on her parents' plan. Tuition? $8,000. Rock tallied up yearly expenses: $35,500. She earned about $45,000. "You don't have a car, you don't own a house, you don't own a boat or a yacht," Rock told her. "I'm guessing this would be zero for your assets."

The woman had been going through this for a decade, and it was not any easier that day.

"I'm not too happy about it," she said, declining to give her name because of concern about her immigration status. "I feel like it's been very draining, and I don't know — I feel like there should be something out there for us. … It's been a long time, and it's a lot of money that we pay into the program."