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Immigrants Temporarily Shielded Under DACA Worry About Election's Consequences


One of the groups with the most at stake at this year's presidential election cannot vote.

JUNG RAE JANG: Yes, I cannot vote, you know, go to the polls because if I do then I think it's a felony, right?

MARTIN: That's because Jung Rae Jang is not a U.S. citizen. He's one of the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without authorization. But he's temporarily protected from deportation by President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It's called DACA, and it may end if Donald Trump wins the presidency. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has more on how some of these DACA immigrants are preparing for the next president.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Even though Jung Rae Jang won't be lining up at the polls on Tuesday, he has been going door to door in New York City reminding U.S. citizens to vote.

JANG: So the election is coming on...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Mandarin).

JANG: November 8, yeah. So see you at the poll site. All right.

WANG: Jang flew from South Korea to the U.S. with his mom when he was 15. He overstayed his student visa. But about four years ago, he received DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It's allowed him to work as a community organizer for the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing, Queens. He's been meeting with other DACA recipients, mainly from South Korea and China.

JANG: I see a lot of people that are very worried about what might happen after the, you know, president's election. They might lose their DACA. You know, they might - in the worst case, getting deported from the United States.

WANG: More than 700,000 immigrants staying in the U.S. illegally are temporarily protected from deportation. For now, they have work permits and Social Security numbers, but they're not legal residents and their lives could be up-ended if the next president decides to end President Obama's executive action.

MONICA SIBRI: So when do you think you can have the target audience done?

ESCARLETH FERNANDEZ: The target audience is, like, undocumented...

WANG: Escarleth Fernandez is working through her fear of the election results. She's at a coffee shop in New York, planning a conference for students who are also staying in the U.S. illegally.

FERNANDEZ: I've known that I'm different since I can remember.

WANG: Fernandez was 4 years old when she and her parents left Bolivia. A car took her across the U.S.-Mexico border illegally before her family settled in New York. Now she's trying to help DACA recipients like her find ways to pay for college through the conference.

FERNANDEZ: This is a way for those students that feel so much pressure to feel like there are other people like them and there are other opportunities.

WANG: Whoever wins the White House, immigrant advocates say they're worried about how immigrants will be treated after the election finally ends. Monica Sibri has been working with DACA students at the City University of New York on a T-shirt campaign.

SIBRI: T-shirts say, I am an immigrant.

WANG: Immigrant students wore the shirts to spark conversations on campus. But Sibri says some students were worried.

SIBRI: Because of the rhetoric of our immigration as a whole, one of them in particular was like, will this have an impact with one of my professors who is not so pro-immigrant?

WANG: Having uncomfortable conversations about immigration, though, is how Ivy Teng Lei is coping with the election.

IVY TENG LEI: Did you say the I-word?

JEFFREY CHAN: That's illegal status - yes, I did.

LEI: No, it's called undocumented.

CHAN: Oh, OK, undocumented. I'm sorry.

WANG: Lei's having a dinner chat with an old college friend, Jeffrey Chan, about her immigration status and the election.

LEI: I am constantly having political conversations with my friends, and I have been told that I shouldn't.

WANG: Lei left China when she was 7 and then overstayed her visitor visa in New York. After college, she worked in marketing for a major fashion brand because of DACA. Lei says if the program ends and she has to leave the U.S., she'll organize protests against immigration officials.

LEI: I will bring an overwhelming amount of people to knock on their door and ask them, how many planes are you going to fly to bring us back? Is this really where you want your tax dollars to be spent? I refuse to give up without a fight.

WANG: The legal fight over an expansion of the DACA program will continue after the election. It would have temporarily protected about 4 million parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders from deportation. But a lawsuit put that program on hold. And after a tied decision at the Supreme Court, the case is back in a lower court in Texas. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.