Story highlights

Advocates said last week that they had confirmed over 50 cases of individuals affected

The US Postal Service acknowledged a mail processing slowdown had occurred in the time frame

Washington CNN  — 

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke late Wednesday ordered the government to accept renewal applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that arrived late due to postal delays – a reversal after the agency had originally rejected those applications.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services issued the new guidance hours before a Thursday court hearing in which immigration advocates were prepared to add the issue to ongoing litigation about the end of DACA, which protected young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation and allowed them to work.

The move could affect dozens of applicants who say they mailed their renewal applications weeks ahead of the October 5 deadline, which was offered for any DACA recipient whose status expires before March 5 as a way to delay the end of the program for six months.

After advocates in New York and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, said last week that they had confirmed more than 50 cases of individuals who had mailed their applications weeks in advance only to have them arrive late – or in some cases, sit undelivered in a US Citizenship and Immigration Services post office box – the US Postal Service acknowledged that a slowdown had occurred.

“The Postal Service was made aware of this issue caused by an unintentional temporary mail processing delay in the Chicago area,” USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said in a statement last week. “This mail processing delay issue has been resolved and we are investigating how it occurred.”

But USCIS said last week that it had a “long-established policy tied to regulation, that the official ‘receipt date’ is the day that USCIS physically receives a properly filed application, petition or request.”

Wednesday night, USCIS said Duke personally directed USCIS to reverse course, allowing for reconsideration for recipients “with individualized proof that the request was originally mailed in a timely manner and that the cause for receipt after the October 5, 2017, deadline was the result of USPS mail service error.”

In the case of applications that arrived at a mailbox on time but were rejected, the guidance said, USCIS will reach out to those individuals and allow them to resubmit their renewal application.

At a New York district court hearing Thursday on ongoing DACA litigation, Judge Nicholas Garaufis granted the request of plaintiffs to add the roughly 4,000 DACA recipients whose renewal applicants were rejected to the lawsuit and try to seek class action certification, but also urged the parties to work through the issues in the case.

Advocates thanked DHS for the change in course, but also called for a resolution for all 4,000 rejected applicants – though little data exists on the grounds for all of those rejections.

“USCIS is making the right decision for our clients and others who complied with the renewal process and mailed in their applications well ahead of the October deadline,” said Hasan Shafiqullah, immigration chief at the Legal Aid Society. “We are reviewing the guidelines released by USCIS last night, and plan to assist those impacted reapply in the comings days.”

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman, Maria Santana and Emma Nanamaker contributed to this report.