Aracely watched the presidential election unfold on her college campus in Fresno through tears. The 19-year-old, who is a recipient of a federal program that protects undocumented young people from being deported, knows her future is uncertain in the hands of President-elect Donald Trump.
“I was watching the TV and I just had no expression. I had no words,” she said Wednesday. “Today I woke up and I felt like I couldn’t trust anybody. I feel like I lost so much, and I don’t know who to look to to comfort me.”
Aracely and other undocumented and legal immigrants living in the Valley feel that their lives could be turned upside down in the wake of a Trump presidency.
If they remove DACA, what do I have? I have nothing left.
Aracely, an undocumented college student living in Fresno
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which President Barack Obama created in 2012 via an executive order, gives people who were brought to the U.S. as minors a temporary reprieve from deportation. DACA also allows recipients to receive work permits and Social Security numbers. Currently, no federal laws prevent undocumented students from being accepted into college.
But all of that could change if Trump follows through with some of his immigration proposals. While it’s still unclear exactly what Trump’s immigration policy would look like, in addition to proposing to build a wall at the Mexico border, the president-elect has vowed to quickly get rid of DACA once he is in office. It’s uncertain whether Trump will allow existing DACA permits to expire or would nix them immediately.
According to his 100-day-plan, Trump would remove the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country. He also would cancel federal funding for Sanctuary Cities like Los Angeles that have policies protecting illegal immigrants from federal immigration laws.
It’s hard to know how many undocumented people live in the central San Joaquin Valley. But a recent estimate put the number of young unauthorized immigrants in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties who qualify for DACA at 18,000. Another 50,000 undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents in the tri-county area qualify for a similar program Obama announced in 2014.
Aracely says that if she doesn’t get deported, her life in the U.S. would still change significantly: She fears she would have to quit school and work alongside her parents in the fields to make money. “If they remove (DACA), what do I have? I have nothing left,” she said. “I’ve worked too hard to come as far as I’ve come.”
Jessica, a 21-year-old student at Fresno State, woke up on Wednesday morning thinking the election results were just a bad dream. The DACA recipient, who came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when she was 4, is scheduled to graduate in May.
“I woke up thinking, was this all for nothing?” she said. “All those sleepless nights, all that stress, all those tests. And it could just end out of nowhere.”
Back in the shadows
Several of the sources in this story asked to not be fully identified or photographed, out of fear of being deported. Many are worried that the very programs President Obama created to protect them will now be used against them, making them easier to be tracked down and deported.
“I am already in the system and that system is now going to be used against me. They have my records and where I live. Again DACA was not meant to cause harm but Trump’s administration already has plans to use it against us,” one Fresno man, who is a DACA recipient, posted on Facebook.
He says Trump’s election to the presidency has changed his sense of safety and trust.
“I am going to be careful. I am not going to be public about my situation. I am going to delete a lot of my friends on Facebook because I don’t know if I can trust them once Trump calls for deportations. If people feel OK voting for Trump, what’s going to stop them from reporting me to (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)?” he said.
Another Fresno man, who is undocumented and is attending law school on the coast, works with sexual assault and domestic violence victims – many of whom are also undocumented – and says he has lost the will to tell them that everything is going to be OK.
Let’s not forget that they still have a right to due process.
Lazaro Salazar, Fresno immigration attorney
“We see a lot of clients who were afraid before the election, and now more so, and rightfully so. It’s hard for me to look at them and help them feel empowered when I myself don’t even know if I’ll be here,” he said. “The truth is it’s not going to be OK.”
He says he knows how easily Trump can repeal DACA, and the temporary relief that many of its recipients felt is now in limbo. Without it, he will have to forfeit law school, find a job that will pay him under the table and lose any sense of freedom, he says.
“To me it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of when,” he said. “Everybody in my shoes, we had an opportunity to stand out of the shadows ‑ to join everybody else out under the sun. And now we’re being told to go back into the holes that we crawled out of. This is a time of mourning for lots of the hope we were given in 2008.”
Latinos who were born here in the Valley worry about discrimination and the safety of their families, too. Both Fresno State and Fresno Unified schools already have offered counseling to students expressing fear.
Kassandra Casillas, a 22-year-old student at Fresno State, said she cried herself to sleep on election night thinking of her father – a Mexican immigrant who came to the U.S. when he was 17.
“I felt as though I lost all hope in America and what it means to be American,” she said. “I wish I could say that I have hope that Latinos can still have a bright future ahead of them despite this mess, but I honestly am even afraid for myself and for my family.”
You still have rights
Local immigration organizations are working to keep people calm, reminding them of the rights they have regardless of Trump’s immigration proposals.
Lazaro Salazar, an immigration attorney in Fresno, said his office was flooded with calls following election night.
“What I’ve been telling people is that (Trump) may have a plan and try to institute something, but let’s not forget that they still have a right to due process and an immigration court system,” Salazar said. “You don’t have a right to an attorney paid for by the government, but you always have the right to request some kind of judicial hearing to ultimately decide whether you will be deported or not.”
Samuel Molina, the state director for Mi Familia Vota, said he has been urging undocumented people to reach out to attorneys and other organizations to make sure they know their rights. He says that while their concerns are understandable, some scenarios may be unlikely.
Comprehensive immigration reform is not off the table. We’re still going to continue fighting.
Samuel Molina, Mi Familia Vota
“The community must understand that he can’t act alone. Trying to deport millions would further clog our judicial system and have a major impact on the economy,” Molina said. “This is a time for unity and for coming together. Comprehensive immigration reform is not off the table. We’re still going to continue fighting for what is right in this county. We believe we can still get the job done.”
Jesus Martinez, chair of the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, has been scrambling to help ease the uncertainty of Fresno’s undocumented and correct any misinformation that is out there. But for now, even the experts say there is a lot of unknown. Martinez said that if Trump actually goes through with his campaign plank, “it’s going to be a very disturbing situation. We have not much to do other than wait and see.”
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria says that the fear is visible in Fresno, saying some families who usually visit Mexico for the holidays are now scared that they won’t be able to come back to the U.S. if they make the trip this year.
“It’s a very real fear in this community because the rhetoric that was used during the campaign was very anti-immigrant,” she said. “Even my nephew, who is a U.S. citizen, was crying, saying he doesn’t want to be deported.”
Soria says that Latina leaders like herself won’t let people live in fear, though.
“As someone who comes from an immigrant family, I have to let the community know that we are here,” she said. “I know they feel like they have no protection, but we are going to be inclusive and protect the people that make up the city of Fresno.”