President Donald Trump’s executive orders have not eased anxiety on American college campuses, where students brought into the country illegally as children continue to fear they could lose the safeguards that have allowed them to remain in the country and study. Indeed, his recent orders may have made matters worse.
Ana Valdez, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, watched over the weekend as crowds descended on the nation’s airports to protest Trump’s immigration order that fulfilled a promise to stop some Muslims from entering the country. She worries the next campaign promise he’ll fulfill is ending the status that has protected her from being deported.
Valdez, a Mexican citizen, rushed to renew her two-year protective status under an Obama-era executive order before Trump took over. The only appointment she could get to update biometrics for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was on the same day of her American Politics final. Her father, who is also in the country illegally, told her it was okay if she failed the class as long as he knew she was safe in the country.
“I’m very nervous,” said Valdez, a sophomore. “There is a lot of fear and anxiety right now because our future is just so uncertain. There has been a lot of rhetoric on the campaign trial and what they’re going to do with DACA is just up in the air.”
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Despite the administration's assurances that those brought to the country illegally as children are not a priority, Trump’s immigration directives have left little room for students to feel safe. Trump has said the roughly 750,000 immigrants currently protected by the DACA program shouldn’t be concerned, but such statements appear inconsistent with the just released executive order that dismisses the idea of protected classes of immigrants and expands the definition of who is considered a criminal.
“We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the order states.
Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have said they are working on a plan that will address the so-called Dreamers who, because of the program, are able to obtain work permits. But they have been given few details of how that would work, and many DACA students like Valdez have not forgotten Trump’s words from the campaign.
Trump’s immigration executive order prioritizes those here illegally who have been convicted or charged with a criminal offense. The order gives the government wide leeway to deport anyone officials think has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
Some DACA recipients likely will be apprehended as immigration agents seek out immigrants with criminal records and prior orders of removal, said Leon Fresco, who headed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration in the Obama administration.
“The administrative order was a de facto, if not plain language, announcement that the protections of DACA will soon be coming to an end,” Fresco said.
The Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment on whether DACA recipients would be protected if apprehended during enforcement operations. The executive order doesn’t outline any safeguards for DACA recipients.
In response to the fears, The University of North Carolina, Florida International University and many other colleges and universities have joined efforts calling on the government to protect the deferred action program. Many schools have considered labeling themselves “sanctuary campuses” to calm fears from immigrant students and activists.
Florida high school students with DACA have been emailing Florida International University professor Juan Carlos Gómez to ask if they should apply for college.
Gómez, the director of the Carlos A. Costa Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, doesn’t think the Trump administration will target DACA students, but he worries the program will soon come to an end. He has heard the assurances from the Trump administration that it will not looking at DACA students, but he’s also seen purported drafts of an immigration order that would end DACA and allow existing work permits to expire.
“A very anxiety ridden situation is being aggravated by the instability,” Gómez said.
Valdez, who is studying political science, has also seen those documents and worries that she will not be able to renew her DACA status. She has spent $30,000 a year to attend the school and can’t imagine not being able to take advantage of her education.
She is working with other students to see if they can convince administrators at the University of North Carolina to be a sanctuary campus. She said students shouldn’t have to worry about being detained while they’re trying to get an education.
“There is just so much uncertainty,” she said. “For everybody else, they don’t know what kind of job they’re going to get. For me, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a job at all. Will I be able to drive? Where do I go forward if they’re cutting off every option I have?”