U.S. Immigrant Youths Fear Deportation Under Trump

Nov 20, 2016
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Donald Trump vows that his administration will deport millions of immigrants who are in this country illegally. In Texas, that has frightened tens of thousands of so-called dreamers. They're young immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents illegally and have grown up here, essentially as Americans. Here's NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Melissa Alfaro sits in the center of her prestigious Dallas law firm's conference room encircled by earnest young 20-somethings dressed in their best business attire.

MELISSA ALFARO: When you're doing a cover letter, as with anything else, you're selling yourself. So this is your time to say, this is why I'm awesome.

GOODWYN: Alfaro is a director at the Latino Center for Leadership Development, and she's teaching these soon-to-be or new college graduates the best strategies to get their first professional J-O-B.

ALFARO: This is not the time to be humble. I've noticed that a lot of things that you guys have done you haven't put on your resumes, right?

GOODWYN: Normally, the training focuses on job interviews, resumes that pop and the best strategies to research your prospective company's corporate culture. But after the presidential election upset by Donald Trump, there's now the unexpected issue of their suddenly vulnerable legal status.

MONICA LIRA BRAVO: If some directive comes out basically saying that he's nullifying DACA, well, then I would not advise you to travel - right? - because your advanced parole is based on you having deferred action.

GOODWYN: Dallas immigration attorney Monica Lira Bravo takes the young attendees through the legal niceties of DACA. It stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and every student here has been under its temporary legal protection since President Obama's 2012 executive action.

ITZEL RUIZ: I did mention I was 4, but I feel like those were, like, my earliest memories. Like, I can perfectly recall my early life here in Dallas when we used to live in this really small apartment.

GOODWYN: Itzel Ruiz was brought to Texas from Mexico City by her parents nearly two decades ago. She's the oldest child. Her siblings were all born here in Texas. Ruiz is a senior at the University of North Texas majoring in marketing and psychology. But her undocumented status has haunted her. She remembers when President Obama held a press conference and lifted that burden like it was yesterday.

RUIZ: Yes, I cried (laughter). That was a very special day.

GOODWYN: The president's executive action gave Ruiz temporary legal status, freeing her from the threat of deportation. She could also get a driver's license, a work permit, a social security number. With those, she was able to open a bank account, establish credit, drive to school and work - in short, live her life like her younger siblings and American friends did.

RUIZ: Before DACA, like, I had no idea of where my future was headed. Obviously, I kind of knew what I didn't have. But with DACA, like, big doors just opened. Endless opportunities just opened, so I knew, like, I had hope.

GOODWYN: But what one president grants with the stroke of a pen, another president can take away just as easily.

RUIZ: I try not to think about it. But, yeah (laughter)...

GOODWYN: Ruiz is on the cusp of graduating from college and starting her adult life in earnest. The prospect that her future could be snatched away at this very moment is difficult.

RUIZ: You're just not guaranteed, you know, another day with your family simply because you don't have a nine-digit number to your name (sobbing) - I'm so sorry (sobbing).

GOODWYN: In exchange for DACA's protections, more than three-quarters of a million undocumented young immigrants have, thus far, submitted to federal investigation to verify they are who they say and have committed no felony or serious misdemeanors. But these dreamers and their advocates now worry this information will be used to round them up.

REBECCA ACUNA: We are nervous that President-elect Trump will do what he has said he would do.

GOODWYN: Rebecca Acuna is the executive director of the Latino Center for Leadership Development, the group that's providing this job training.

ACUNA: The President Trump administration now has the names, addresses, family information of people who have said they were in the country illegally. There are fears that somebody will take a look at that information and deport them.

GOODWYN: Since winning the election, President-elect Trump has hinted he might be flexible about his approach on some issues. On immigration, Trump's indicated he will begin his deportation endeavors with undocumented convicted criminals. But he's not specified where the expulsions will end. Dreamers are praying it's before the new president gets 'round to them.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.