Education / Immigration

Young immigrants worry about future under Trump

Samali Bikangaga

Cecilia Arias and Shanjida Choudhury, both seniors at Fannie Lou Hamer High School, pose under a banner that reads “No Human Is Illegal!”

Teens in US since childhood fear deportation under new administration

Cecilia Arias, a 17-year-old senior at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, has high hopes to attend college after graduation. Since she was a young girl, she dreamed of someday becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. This fall, she made a list of local colleges that offer the best pre-med programs and started her application process. Her top choices were Stony Brook University, Hunter College and St. John’s University.

But when she sat with her family around the television on Election Night last month, she felt her dreams slowly dissipating.

“After the elections came in, I felt as if all my doors were shut,” Arias said. “I felt that everything was over.”

Arias is an undocumented student, one of 43,000 in the borough, sometimes called “Dreamers,” who have lived in the United States from a very young age. Arias emigrated from Ecuador when she was a baby, at just 12 months old, traveling with her mother, Fatima, across the border, and meeting her father and grandparents in New York City. The family has been living here since 1999.

As Inauguration Day approaches, many high school students in the South Bronx are wondering what a Donald Trump presidency will hold for them and their future. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the Bronx ranks third across New York City counties in New York State with a population of 117,000 undocumented immigrants, largely from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica and Honduras.

During his campaign, the president-elect vowed he would quickly terminate any executive actions of his predecessor that favored immigrants, including the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provided work papers for students who arrived in the country before the age of 16 and before 2007, and eliminated the threat of deportation. If Trump follows through on this threat, he could effectively guarantee the deportation of nearly 700,000 immigrants across the country who qualified for DACA.

Since the election, students here have been gathering and organizing to voice stories of frustration, concern, and above all, hope.

“One thing that gave me hope is being a DACA student,” said Arias. “Because of that hope, I am still able to go to college.”

There are nearly 60,000 DACA participants residing in New York City, according to the Migration Policy Institute. As a high school freshman, Arias applied through a program run by the City University of New York in Washington Heights. But DACA participants have a delicate status; they are eligible for work authorization and can attend college in New York State, but they cannot apply for federal aid.

Earlier this month, Arias and other DACA students gathered in the basement of the Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice building last week in Soundview to comfort each other, and try to find solutions.

“It hurts to see that so many people are broken down from these elections,” said Arias as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

Shanjida Choudhury, 17, a Castle Hill resident and student at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School who has known Ms. Arias since middle school, organized the meeting to provide onsite legal services for members of the community and give people a forum to vent their worries.

“I feel like we are going back in time and it’s not cool,” said Choudhury.

Lorenzo Deleon, 17, said he was 2 years old when his father was deported and forced to return to the Dominican Republic.

“It’s sad to see that people who want to come to America to get a better life and a better education have to be sent back to a place where there is even more poverty and more violence,” Deleon said.

Henry Lajara, director of the Center for Community Justice at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, provides direct immigration services to members of the community, such as help with naturalization filing, and provides referrals to pro-bono attorneys. Since the election, he said he has seen an intense influx of concerns from clients, largely about the future of DACA, status for undocumented criminals, and registering for the New York City Identification Card.

“Since we do not know what the Trump administration will do in the future, we are saying to keep informed on all levels. Know your rights, seek legal advice and stay out of trouble,” said Lajara.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, New York City will remain a “sanctuary city” – a city that has policies designed to not prosecute undocumented immigrants. There are more than 200 sanctuary cities in the country. President-Elect Trump has said he will block federal funds to cities with policies or laws that hinder the efforts of federal immigration authorizations.

A few weeks ago, local elected officials formally asked President Obama to grant a presidential pardon to the 700,000 DACA enrollees nationwide to try to thwart Trump’s efforts before he takes office in January.

“You have this president-elect that, instead of sending a message of progress, he has sent a message of lack of hope and absence of meaning of the lives of many people across this nation,” said Antison Ortiz, representative of local Assemblyman Marcos Crespo.

If Trump shutters the DACA program altogether, hundreds of thousands of young people who have spent most of their lives in the U.S. could be deported.

Ulises Chavero, a Soundview resident who was born and raised in New York City to Mexican parents who are still undocumented, is not willing to give in yet.

“Fear is not something we should have right now,” Chavero said. “Trump showed us what America’s true colors are. We can’t fight hate with hate, it’s like fighting fire with fire.”

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