Claudia Quiñonez was driving home from an election watch party early Wednesday morning when a friend broke the news: Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States. Quiñonez, 21, pulled over to the side of the road and wept.
She was 11 when she and her mother moved to Maryland from Bolivia in pursuit of a better life. They had visas, but overstayed them, leaving them undocumented.
Under a controversial policy designed by the Obama administration, Quiñonez had become a dreamer, protected from deportation and given a work permit. She found a job and earned a scholarship to attend college.
“I felt like I was going to achieve my American Dream,” she said during an interview at CASA, an immigration advocacy group.
“But now that Donald Trump has been elected president, I don’t feel safe,” she said, again on the verge of tears. “I can be deported. Even my mother can be deported.”
More than 11 million undocumented immigrants woke up to the same reality Wednesday morning: a newly elected president who has vowed to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. A president who has described some Latinos as rapists, killers and drug dealers. A president who has vowed to begin deportations within his first hour in office.
Trump’s victory came a shock to many Americans. For undocumented immigrants, however, their futures have taken a startling turn, from the promise of immigration reform under Hillary Clinton to the threat of deportation under Trump.
“We are now facing an entirely different system of reality to what we are used to,” said Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter-turned-activist who is perhaps the country’s most prominent undocumented immigrant. While the Obama administration deported record numbers of immigrants, it also tried to help others remain in the United States.
“Under the Trump administration, the level of fear and anxiety among undocumented people will only get deeper and more prevalent,” said Vargas the founder and chief executive of Define American. On Election Day, a man who recognized Vargas outside of Fox News patted him on the back. “Get ready to be deported,” the man told Vargas, who described himself on Facebook as “rattled” by the encounter.
Across the country, people are asking themselves what a Trump presidency will look like. How will he handle the Islamic State, the U.S. relationship with Russia, education policy?
On immigration, however, Trump has been explicit. The Republican made it one of his central issues, focusing on it in campaign speeches and connecting it to both national security and the economy. He promised not only to “build the wall” and deport the “bad hombres,” but also to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to carry out mass roundups reminiscent of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1954 initiative “Operation Wetback,” which removed hundreds of thousands of Mexicans from the United States.
The question is how far will President Trump go to deliver.
“Trump will keep his promises to his base,” said Corey Stewart, chairman of Prince William’s Board of County Supervisors and the former head of Trump’s Virginia campaign. “He’s got to build the wall and he’s got to provide for better internal immigration enforcement. That was the main promise of his campaign. He’s got to keep it, and he will keep it.”
David A. Martin, a former deputy general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama, said the president’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, in limbo after the Supreme Court reached a 4-4 tie on a case challenging it, “won’t see the light of day.”
Dreamers like Quiñonez, who essentially outed themselves as undocumented, could see their protections stripped. ICE raids on factories and construction sites could begin anew. “And I certainly think we’re going to see some wall-building,” Martin said.
But Trump’s immigration policies will also face political and financial pressures, Martin said. ICE agents and giant walls are expensive. Deporting university students can be politically damaging. “Now that it’s more than just rhetoric, we’ll see what he prioritizes,” Martin said.
Trump’s victory has already upended conventional political wisdom, according to Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank.
“A lot of Republican brain trusts and Democrats have been saying for years that Republicans cannot win the presidency without embracing comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “Well, so much for that.”
For Brenda Barrios, 31, who lives in Silver Spring, Md., Trump’s election is a “nightmare.” She allowed her 10-year-old American-born son, Frankie, to stay up an hour past his bedtime to watch election results on Univision.
“When he saw the map go red, and red, and red, and red, he asked me, ‘Mommy, is Donald Trump going to win?’ ” she said. “I told him not to worry.”
But the next morning, when Frankie woke up from school, the first question out of his mouth was: Who won? When Barrios told him it was Trump, Frankie burst into tears.
“He is afraid his mom is going to be sent to another country,” she said. For Barrios, that pain is all too real. Her parents immigrated illegally to the United States when she was 5, leaving her and her sister behind in Guatemala. When she and her sister joined them in 2003, Barrios finally felt like she had a family. But it didn’t last. Her father was deported in early 2005. Barrios’s mom went with him. She hasn’t seen them since.
With Trump as president, Barrios shares her son’s fear that her own family will be torn apart. She fears ICE will arrest her husband, who is a carpenter and plumber, while he is at work. Or that they will come for her.
“I’m afraid of ICE coming to my door, to the park when I am there with my kids,” she said. “I’m even scared to take the kids to school since you never know who is watching now.”
Not all undocumented immigrants are distraught, however. As a Mexican-born construction worker, José Piña said he already lives with the threat of being detained and deported every time he goes to work.
“That’s our reality now,” he said in Spanish. “We’ve always had that fear. It’s the risk you take crossing the border.”
Piña, 38, sneaked into the United States in 1998. He and his childhood sweetheart, who also entered the country illegally, have an 8-year-old daughter, Heather. She was born on the Fourth of July.
Sitting next to her parents in a green “Life is Good” hoodie, Heather said she thought Donald Trump was “mean because he said he didn’t want immigrants and the kids who are immigrants.”
Asked if she was scared what might happen to her family now, Heather tentatively shook her head.
“We can fight against what is happening,” she said, her voice caught somewhere between a statement and a question.