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Undocumented immigrants face uncertainty

Jonna McKone

President-elect Donald Trump promised during his campaign to get tough on immigration.

Among other things, his campaign website promised to build an “impenetrable physical wall” on our southern border and he has promised to terminate President Obama’s program that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation.

And that has raised anxiety levels in immigrant communities throughout the country as well as in Baltimore. “It’s very scary right now in our community,” said Nathaly Uribe Robledo, who entered the United States illegally as a child in 1997. “A lot of people are very afraid.  They are not sure what’s going happen.” 

In addition to his other promises, Trump also has vowed to triple the number of U.S. immigration agents and end what many call "sanctuary cities," which do not actively enforce immigration laws.

Robledo, who was two when her parents brought her here from Chile, is 21 now, and, like about 700,000 others nationally, has been protected from deportation by DACA. That’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It’s Obama’s executive order that allows people who entered the US before age 16 and June 15 2007 temporary haven and the chance to get work permits.

Trump’s stance on DACA may be softening, judging from an interview with Time Magazine. But Robledo says she’s not sure what’s next, especially for DACA recipients, like her.

Felicia German, the Latino Outreach Coordinator at Hampstead Hill Academy, says some people feel protected by the legal status DACA offers, despite the unknowns. They say it would be unlikely the next administration would reverse the gains of undocumented immigrants.

". . . How is Donald Trump actually going to do something so inhumane as to reverse your status, going backwards?" she asked.

But, she says, others think DACA recipients might be the first ones deported because the federal government has personal information, like fingerprints and date of birth.

"So we have a lot of parents who have no status; they might not have had any interaction with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) at any time," she said. "And in a way they feel safeguarded because of that, because it’s as if they didn’t exist."

Now, some of those people wonder if they would be better off with DACA.

Earlier this month, about 100 people came to a citywide screening for immigration status and a “Know Your Rights” workshop at Hampstead Hill.

Lorena Dias, a community organizer with CASA, checked in immigrants who had come to figure out how their status might change given Trump’s campaign promises.

Dias encouraged people to seek legal advice before renewing for DACA because, as she told one DACA recipient, "I don’t want to put you at risk for anything."

It’s because of the risks that immigration rights groups, like CASA, and Catholic Legal Immigration Network or CLINIC, organized the event. Volunteers screened people and lawyers met one-on-one to map out steps for applying for DACA or pursuing other strategies for legal status. Or they figured out what to do in worst-case scenarios, like deportation.

Missael, who is 26, and came to the US about 13 years ago, went to the clinic because he wanted to see if he could re-apply for DACA before Trump takes office, even though his status doesn’t expire for nearly a year.

He said he wants "to take the chance because if not, then this will be my last year with my work permit, and then I will become undocumented as well." 

Missael said many immigrants come to the States "whether they want to or don’t" because "there are no other options."

He left the clinic with a few options to potentially safeguard his status. One could be applying for a U Visa for victims of violence willing to assist law enforcement.

Before the consultations, volunteer screeners and lawyers went through a brief training. One volunteer screener asked whether people will be afraid to answer questions like "the gang question, the fraud questions or using someone else’s social security number?"

Nick Katz, who works as a legal manager at CASA and was helping lead the training, said people are going to be afraid, but "this is going to be confidential space where you are going get advice. And in order for us to give you advice to be effective, we you need to be honest," he said.

Lawyers and advocates are encouraging immigrants to check their status because DACA doesn’t have the force of law. If they qualify for something more lasting, they should know about it.

Jarod Jaskot, whose Fells Point law firm specializes in immigration law, volunteered at the clinic. He says there’s no consensus on whether new applicants should seek DACA now "because Trump said so many crazy things, we don’t really know what he will do when he becomes president."

He said Trump could destroy DACA "with a pen… instantly."

"And that’s basically what almost every person was asking me, Jaskot said. "'Can he do this?' And then when I told them ‘yes,’ they were trying to figure out what that means for them."

It’s not just DACA’s impending end; undocumented people are concerned that police will be able to check residents’ names and IDs on the street. Jaskot said a lot people had questions about their safety.

And Robledo, the 21-year-old DACA recipient, worries about her parents.

"If I get home first and they’re still not home from work, one starts worrying," she said, her voice trembling and tearing rolled down her face. "You call them and they don’t answer. The worst situation goes through your head. Maybe they were pulled over while they were driving home and now they are being detained somewhere."

Robledo and others said families are changing their routines to avoid unnecessary risks and they will spend the holidays planning for what might happen in 2017.

Felicia German, of Hampstead Hill, said people at the clinic encouraged families to have a safety plan.

"If I, Mom, get deported, my American-born child has a right to stay here," she explained. "Who’s going to take care of them? That’s the idea, is whom will I leave my child with?"

Immigrant rights groups recommend stashing documents in a safe place and having your “A number” or Alien registration number memorized.

But all this doesn’t mean people are hopeless. They’ve seen college presidents, county executives and faith leaders rise up to support them. And the mood at the workshop reflected that.

Carlos, an organizer with CASA, lead the crowd at the clinic in chanting, "Yes, we can" in English and Spanish.

"We’re here, we’re not leaving," he said. "We are going to show Donald Trump that we are going to fight, that we are going to fight for what we have already won."

The crowd responded in agreement.

Immigration advocates have pointed out that the Obama administration has deported a record number of people, suggesting that a Trump administration may pursue the same policies but package them differently.

And when it comes to Trump’s wall at the Mexican border, they note that there are already hundreds of miles of fencing on the border that has proven ineffective, especially for those seeking refuge from staggering violence.

These organizations offer additional information and immigration legal services:

Catholic Charities

Esperanza Center

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