Many Worried Over Uncertain Future
By Franchesca Stevens
Stephany Calderon is, in some ways, lucky. She’s young, beautiful, smart, and she was born in 1994.
That last part is important because it qualified her for President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Calderon’s luck may have run out when Donald Trump won the presidency on Nov. 8.
Implemented by executive order in 2012, DACA is an immigration policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants to the United States who entered the country as children to receive renewable two-year work permits and exemption from deportation.
Stephany and her mother, Ivonne, came to Albuquerque in 1999 from Chihuahua, Mexico, on six-month visitors’ permits. They never left. Under DACA, Stephany is able to remain in the United States legally, but her mother is an undocumented citizen who could easily be deported.
To qualify for DACA, applicants must have been born after 1981 and come to the United States before their 16th birthday. Stephany was 5 when she came. Like Calderon, many DACA participants consider themselves as American as anyone born here, and many consider Mexico to be a foreign place far from home.
On Jan. 20, once Donald Trump is sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, with the stroke of a pen, he could change Calderon’s status and that of 728,000 other immigrants.
“I am scared because this is my life,” Calderon said. “This is my country. This is where I grew up, you know? This is what I know, and I have my plans and my dreams that I’ve set out for myself and want to accomplish, but, I mean, come January, when Trump goes into office, what’s going to happen?
“Everything, everything that I’ve built up – is all that going to change? What am I going to do? He thinks that we are different in this country. That we’re kind of the outsiders. But, for me, for someone who’s been here my whole life, if I go back to Mexico, I’m going to be the outsider. I don’t know anything there.”
Calderon will graduate from UNM in December with degrees in criminology and psychology with a focus on sociology.
“I plan to help people who are struggling with opioid addiction,” she said. “I want to help rehabilitate them and help them do better in their lives and have opportunities that they weren’t able to have when they were using.
“And that’s just from certain personal experiences where I’ve had people in my life who were just destroyed from the drug,” she said.
Calderon said she is grateful for DACA. “It’s given me the opportunity to work here, legally, you know. I got comfortable with the idea that I could be here and I won’t be deported,” she said. “And that’s kind of changing now. It’s kind of scary.
“I’m afraid that the laws are going to change to become more harsh. I’m afraid that I’ll graduate and then I won’t be able to do anything. I’m afraid [Trump is] going to take that away from me, and I won’t have any more opportunities. Everything I’ve worked for will be gone.”
By Sara MacNeil
While President-elect Donald Trump has said he will eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, it’s unclear whether he will end DACA immediately or deny individual participants’ work permits as they expire.
At a minimum, DACA remains in effect until Trump takes the oath of office on Jan. 20.
“Trump is more unpredictable than presidents in the past and we really don’t know what to expect,” reads a New Mexico Immigrant Law Center post-election advisory notice.
Immigrants’ rights advocates fear he could sign an order voiding the program and all work permits immediately.
He could also order the use of information in DACA files to locate and deport participants. As part of DACA, the federal Department of Homeland Security is not allowed to give applicant information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless a person is a priority for deportation. National advocacy groups are pressuring the Obama administration to protect the information in DACA files, but whether he can legally do so is unlikely.
As a precaution, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center is advising immigrants not to apply for DACA if it’s their first time or if they have any changes to their information.
Trump has already said he would deport two million to three million undocumented immigrants with criminal records.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminals and have criminal records – gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million; it could be even three million. We are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump said in a post-election interview with “60 Minutes.”
Like Trump, Obama came into office saying he would focus on deporting immigrants with criminal convictions, but during Obama’s two terms, many were deported for traffic violations and other minor offenses.
Obama’s executive action to create the DACA program was a result of pressure from the immigrant community after he deported more immigrants than any other president, gaining the nickname “deporter in chief.”
“Immigration enforcement has been at an all-time high during Obama’s presidency,” said Adriel Orozco, a lawyer with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.
George Bush authorized workplace raids that terrorized immigrant communities. Under Obama, that stopped, but raids were conducted at people’s homes, Orozco said.
Franchesca Stevens is an Albuquerque freelance writer.
Sara MacNeil is an ABQ Free Press Weekly journalism intern.