In many immigrant communities across the country, the election of Donald Trump has sparked fear, and in some cases panic, over the prospect that deportations could break up many families if the president-elect follows through on his campaign promises.
According to the Pew Research Center, at least 9 million people live in “mixed-status” families — households in which some members are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants while others are undocumented or have overstayed their visas. In these households, there is a deepening anxiety among children as well as adults that a loved one may soon be deported.
“If you have heard a presidential candidate say for months, ‘We will round up and remove 11 million’ undocumented immigrants,” said Eva A. Millona, co-chair of the National Partnership for New Americans, a nationwide immigrant advocacy coalition, “it is legitimately and terribly frightening to be where we are right now.”
Organizations in 10 states that work closely with immigrants told The Washington Post this week that in the days since the election, they have been beset by frantic phone calls, tear-filled office visits and urgent requests to set up legal plans for the guardianship of children or help with other possible deportation planning.
Immigration advocates say that they have become even more concerned: Trump, in a “60 Minutes” interview, promised that his administration would target for swift removal 2 million to 3 million immigrants who entered the country illegally and have since been convicted of crimes.
It’s unclear how Trump will define the term “criminal alien” and, as such, which immigrants will be targeted for removal. In fiscal 2013, a Department of Homeland Security report found that there were about 1.9 million undocumented immigrants, legal permanent residents and other legal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, which under federal law make them subject to deportation.
Many advocates and immigrants are convinced that distinctions — legal vs. unauthorized, permanent resident vs. visa holder — will not matter. They worry, in particular, that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE) will detain and deport anyone in the country without authorization, even those without criminal records, especially if they live or work near targeted individuals.
“It seems that the 2 to 3 million figure that other people may find comforting includes a lot of collateral damage,” said Susan Bowyer, deputy director of the Immigrant Center for Women and Children in the agency’s Oakland, Calif., office.
Since Trump’s win, the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center and many other similar organizations have begun to alter the advice they offer members, clients and other organizations.
Obama issued an executive order in 2012 that allowed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). It offered deportation relief and work permits to young adults brought to the country as children who are in school, have graduated from college or have entered the military.
In the years since, immigrant organizations across the country strongly encouraged young people to complete DACA applications and helped cover the application fees. As of March 2016, 819,512 applications were approved. More than 500,000 have been renewed, according to federal data.
“Now, things are sadly very different. For those who are approaching the point of renewal, we are strongly recommending that they request that immediately, before Trump takes office,” said Nancy Kelly, co-managing director of the immigration unit at Greater Boston Legal Services, a law lecturer and co-managing director of Harvard University Law School’s Immigrant and Refugee Clinical Program. “Their names and addresses are already known. But for those who have never applied, we’re advising that the risk is probably too high for them to do so now.”
Kelly said public support for deporting more than 800,000 young adults and children probably does not exist. But, as resource center staff wrote in a tipsheet posted on the organization’s website after the election, “Trump is more unpredictable than past presidents, so we do not really know what to expect.”
But they know they are worried.
“The reality is that millions of people — legal and unauthorized immigrants — will be driving, walking or going about their daily lives in Trump’s America while brown,” said law professor Andrea Ramos, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.
“There are communities where that makes them more likely to be stopped by the police, and, if they don’t have the proper ID, they can be arrested, then detained for ICE,” Ramos said. “That’s true even if they have done nothing else wrong. You are talking about millions of people who genuinely have reason to fear that they may drop their children off at school or head to work and, if they are detained, never come home again.”
Mark Silverman, a senior staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resources Center, has been deluged with requests from churches, parent groups, community organizations and other entities seeking expertise in immigration law to speak to groups of immigrants.
Silverman has already given three presentations this week and has five others scheduled in the next few days, up from the usual one or two per month.
His Spanish-language presentation begins with a PowerPoint slide bearing the words, “Calmados pero informados.” That’s “Calm but informed,” in English. Silverman has encountered people at events and in his work circles who are spiraling into irrational pools of worry and fear and those who may be too calm to properly prepare for the variety of possibilities. Silverman and several other immigrant rights advocates advise something in between.
“The thing is, the Constitution applies to all persons in the United States,” Silverman said, “not just its citizens. And any administration is still governed by the rule of law. But people have to be prepared and aware of their rights to begin to assert them”