Bay Area residents benefiting from Obama immigration program uncertain about future

President-elect Donald Trump could reverse President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program on his first day in office, leaving some Bay Area residents grappling with uncertainty.
Protestors gather outside of the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 27 as part of a “Love Trumps Hate” march organized by San Jose residents Elizabeth and Mary Clare Bernal. (Jenna Fowler/Peninsula Press)
Protestors gather outside of the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 27 as part of a “Love Trumps Hate” march organized by San Jose residents Elizabeth and Mary Clare Bernal. (Jenna Fowler/Peninsula Press)

When Richard, 23, received a driver’s license and a social security number four years ago, his life completely changed. He could do things his peers had always done, like sign up for classes at his local community college, get a job as a barista and go out on weekend nights without fearing he could be pulled over at any second and caught without a license and possibly deported.

Born in Mexico, but brought to the United States by his parents when he was two years old, Richard is one of the roughly 740,000 people nationwide impacted by President Barack Obama’s DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, that allows certain young people who came to the country before they turned 16 to apply for employment authorization.

However, since the presidential election, Richard – the Peninsula Press is withholding publishing his last name and those of others with a similar immigration status because of uncertainty around the program’s future – and other Bay Area DACA recipients are fearful.

Because the DACA program was created through a 2012 executive action, President-elect Donald Trump could reverse the policy on his first day in office. “It could end and it’s a horrible feeling,” Richard said in an interview at a local community college. “It’s honestly always in the back of my mind.”

Throughout the election, Trump stated in speeches and on his campaign website that he would “immediately terminate” what he described as President Obama’s illegal immigration amnesties. He has promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

A few days after the election, in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Trump said he would deport or incarcerate up to three million immigrants that “have criminal records,” which, to some immigration experts, signaled that the President-elect might at least be softening his stance on deportation.

In a Dec. 7 Time magazine article, Trump suggested he would “work something out” for people that immigrated to the United States as minors. He didn’t specifically walk back his attacks on DACA, which on his campaign website Trump had described as unconstitutional and illegal.

But immigration service providers in the Bay Area – including attorneys from La Raza Centro Legal in San Francisco, Oakland’s chapter of the Immigration Center for Women and Children and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto – are not certain what Trump will do with the DACA program.

“We have so little concrete information so far,” said Ilyce Shugall, directing attorney of the Immigration Program for Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto.

Right now, attorneys from all three of these organizations said that they are recommending that clients who have already received DACA approval go forward with the renewal process, which takes place every two years and costs $465 in processing fees.

However, for individuals who may be eligible for DACA but haven’t already submitted an application, attorneys are recommending they wait.

“We don’t want to expose anyone’s address to immigration since Trump’s made such a broad statement about who he would like to deport,” said Amanda Alvarado Ford, immigration law coordinating attorney at La Raza Centro Legal.

For people like Richard, who is taking time off from school right now to work full-time and save money, the uncertainty is crippling. Although he was planning on returning to school next semester, Richard said he won’t be able to afford the classes if he loses work authorization and in-state tuition.

“That has to be put on hold,’’ Richard said. “I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do.”

Fabiola (the Peninsula Press is withholding publishing her last name), who was born in Mexico, received her social security number and driver’s license because of DACA in 2013. She grew up in the Bay Area, graduated a year early with extra credits from high school and received her paralegal certificate from a local community college. While earning her certificate, she worked roughly 36 hours per week, made the dean’s list every semester and graduated with a 3.92 GPA.

Fabiola and her coworkers were devastated by the election results.

“A lot of us cried at the office,’’ Fabiola recalled. “I had a very hard time.”

On the morning of the election, her six-year-old son who was born in the United States and who has told Fabiola he is frightened of Trump’s promise to deport illegal immigrants, broke down in tears and begged her to skip work and go vote.

“I had to explain to him that because I’m not a citizen I couldn’t go vote,” Fabiola said. “It broke my heart.”

Fabiola works alongside attorneys and immigration experts at a local immigration law firm, where they too are advising new potential DACA applicants not to apply for the program at this time.

“Right now we’re seeing it’s taking about nine to 12 months to process new applicants so by then Trump will obviously be in office and then if it goes away their information is going to be out there, and I don’t know how it will work if they’ve already paid their application fees,” Fabiola said.

For Susan Bowyer, deputy director of the Immigration Center for Women and Children and directing attorney of the nonprofit’s Oakland office, the result of the race was shocking. She described feeling sick to her stomach as she watched more and more states turn red on election night.

“It felt like 9/11,” said Bowyer, who works mainly with immigrants who are domestic violence survivors and may qualify for U visas, a special category set aside for victims of crimes.

Since the election, Bowyer and her coworkers have received several frantic phone calls from concerned clients.

Stanford University Law School Professor Jayashri Srikantiah, who directs the Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, doesn’t want members of the immigrant community to panic.

Srikantiah is encouraging her clients who already have DACA and are eligible to renew to go ahead with the renewal process.

“My concern is that we don’t actually know what his proposal is and I want to balance not spreading fear in immigrant communities while at the same time encouraging people to be prepared,” Srikantiah said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Peninsula Press is a project of the Stanford Journalism Program and not affiliated with the Stanford Law School.)

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