Although reluctant to call attention to themselves, many young immigrants attending school, working and raising families in Del Norte County are living in fear due to the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Cynthia Barcelo and Yesid Barco, Latino health coordinators for the Del Norte Community Health Center, say they’ve been fielding calls from some of the people they work with who are in tears because they don’t know what to do.
“The one call that I got yesterday, she is working, she has a 4-year-old child and she’s terrified she’s going to be ripped away from her baby,” Barcelo said. “Her husband’s a U.S. citizen and she’s starting the process of becoming documented. It’s just the not knowing...”
Barcelo and Barco attended a community discussion about the DACA program Thursday at College of the Redwoods’ Del Norte campus. Led by Professors Philip Mancus and Will Meriwether and Student Outreach Coordinator Manuel Saavedra, the event included a history of DACA and the political implications surrounding both the executive order that began the program and the decision to phase it out.
The discussion closed with several people in the audience, including CR Del Norte Director Rory Johnson, pledging their support for DACA recipients and asking what more they can do to help.
“We are here to stand next to you and say we’re here to fight for you,” Johnson said. “This is a safe place for you to be and we’re going to do everything we can.”
Begun as an executive order from President Barack Obama in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program applied to individuals, known as Dreamers, who were brought into the U.S. when they were children, Mancus said. It protected them against deportation and provided work permits.
To be eligible for DACA, individuals need to have arrived in the U. S. before the age 16, have lived here since June 2007 and not be older than 30 in 2012, Mancus said. A DACA recipient couldn’t have a criminal record and often needed legal representation, a documentation of their birth certificate, evidence of living in the U.S. and even fingerprinting and other biometric analyses to continue to stay in the country under DACA.
A Dreamer was also required to be working or attending college, Mancus said. DACA recipients must renew their visas every two years.
There are about 800,000 DACA recipients living in the U.S. with an estimated 8,000 serving in the armed forces, Mancus said.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration would end DACA. According to Mancus, the Trump administration gave Congress a six month window to take legislative action to preserve the program.
Meanwhile, no new DACA applications will be accepted, Mancus said. Work permits will be honored until they expire and renewals for expired permits will be accepted until March 2018, he said.
“The big concern is if Congress doesn’t do anything and this finally does end, the possibility is we might see up to 300,000 Dreamers deported next year depending on how they do it and if they do it,” Mancus said. “And another 300,000 the following year.”
Mancus noted several people have opposed the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA, including the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank. According to economists with the Cato Institute, the total costs of deporting the Dreamers would be $7.5 billion, Mancus said.
The Cato Institute estimated the U.S. economy would lose $283 billion in 10 years as a result of the end of DACA, Mancus said.
In California, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, said changes to DACA don’t affect Assembly Bill 540, which was signed into law in 2001 and allows undocumented students to attend college and pay in-state residential fees, Mancus said.
The Trump administration’s decision to end DACA also doesn’t affect the California Dream Act, which allows students to apply for state education grants, said Tory Eagles, who works in the college’s financial aid department.
“Both of these programs, as of yesterday, the chancellor’s office says they’re not going to be affected at this time,” Eagles said Thursday.
Meriwether said it was also important for undocumented students and other Dreamers to know their rights. He noted a law enforcement officer can’t stop any individual specifically to ask about their citizenship and if they do an individual isn’t required to answer.
“The Supreme Court has reaffirmed this numerous times that you cannot be stopped specifically to ask about your immigration status,” he said.
Meriwether also pointed people to the American Civil Liberties Union to be informed on what their rights are.
Del Norte County Sheriff Erik Apperson said Friday that the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA doesn’t change the position of his office or the way his deputies conduct their investigations. While they may ask a person’s immigration status if they are considered a suspect for a local crime, Apperson said it’s not his department’s job to find and detain people who are undocumented.
“We’re not immigration, we’re not ICE, we deal with local criminal problems,” he said. “That being said, we cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies as far as information sharing — what we’re legally allowed to do — but we’re not immigration police.”
Saavedra, a first-generation U.S. citizen, said even though he knew DACA wasn’t permanent, the decision to end the program hit “really close to home” for him. He noted that even attending conversations about issues like DACA can be nerve-wracking for undocumented people.
“Let’s face it, we live in a mostly rural, white, conservative community where they feel unwelcome — that’s just the facts,” he said. “At least in the communities I’ve been talking to, yeah, we’re afraid.”
Barcelo noted DACA recipients aren’t criminals, that they’re just trying to make a life for themselves and their families. For their parents, leaving their native country they were fleeing violence and looking for a safer place to bring up their families, she said.
“My dad is from El Salvador and he came here as a refugee,” she said. “He was taken from his home when he was 13 or 14 years old and he was forced to be in the military and he escaped the military when he was 17 and he arrived here when he was 17. He was escaping because he didn’t want to die, he didn’t want to kill people. They were forcing him to kill people.”
Barcelo said the outreach the Del Norte Community Wellness Center has helped Dreamers living in Del Norte County feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns to her. However, they are often met with racist remarks from people in the community.
“People say rude, snide comments under their breath, out loud,” she said. “There’s a group of not-so-nice people, racist people that live in this community and nobody says anything about it. It’s hush, hush and that’s part of the reason why the community is so divided.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org.