Adults brought to the country as children refuse to go back in the shadows after holding up their end of U.S. deal
Angela Velazquez feels like she should have been better prepared. After all, the 28-year-old Sacramento resident never believed President Donald Trump had softened his stance on undocumented immigrants like her, who were brought to this country as children and later came forward as adults because they trusted the American government—their government—to keep its word.
But even with all the bellwethers indicating that Trump would strike down yet another Obama-era policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, Velazquez says she couldn’t resist not thinking about the inevitable.
“I wanted one normal week before it’s gone,” Velazquez said Tuesday, hours after Trump made the inevitable the official.
On September 5, the erratic leader of the free world kept a promise to his base by announcing an end to a policy that granted protections to 800,000 undocumented immigrants who held up their side of an agreement with the U.S. government. The Trump administration started a six-month countdown in the process.
Homeland Security formally rescinded the memorandum that created DACA in 2012, but undocumented immigrants who applied for and were granted deferred action will have until March 5, 2018, before they officially can be targeted by Trump’s deportation force.
Republican lawmakers claim the delay is meant to create urgency for Congress to finally pass immigration reform. But Democratic lawmakers blasted that narrative as insincere and Trump’s action as heartless.
“Children brought to the United States—through no fault of their own—deserve our compassion,” Rep. Ami Bera said in a statement. “These children have passed background checks and are already contributing to our economy as productive residents. … I urge the administration to reverse this decision immediately.”
In her own statement, U.S. Sen. Kamala D. Harris called Trump’s decision “a cruel betrayal to the more than 800,000 young people, including more than 200,000 Californians, who have only ever known the United States of America as their home.”
“Dreamers are Americans in every way except a piece of paper,” she added.
Like many undocumented immigrants, Velazquez was wary the initiative was a ruse for the government to collect personal information that it could use to locate and detain undocumented families when President Barack Obama signed it five years ago. She waited a full year before applying. When she finally did, she found DACA a gateway to educational and career opportunities she didn’t have before. All these years later, however, and it looks like the conspiracy theorists were right.
“It’s definitely a scary situation for everyone who came forward and provided their information to Immigration,” Velazquez said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that DACA recipients won’t be the target of immigration enforcement once their statuses expire, but this administration has made those paper promises before.
“We’ve heard so many things from this administration, saying they’re only going to go after those ‘bad hombres’ or whatever, but yet, we see all of our community members around us being deported,” Velazquez said. “I don’t trust it.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, stepped up its arrests of non-criminal aliens by 50 percent since Trump expanded the agency’s scope earlier this year.
Splitting her day attending press conferences at Newman Catholic Center and Sacramento State University on Monday, Velazquez said people were asking her reaction all day. She wasn’t surprised by Trump’s announcement, just saddened and angered. Velazquez’s DACA status expired last month, but she’s not one of the 240,000 California recipients in danger. She’s applied for permanent residency, which she’s confident she will receive—at some point. She’s currently waiting on a new work permit so she can be legally employable. A few months after that, she should receive her green card.
“Once I receive my permanent residency, it won’t affect me anymore. But it still hurts just as much, because I still remember what it was like before DACA and all the opportunities I received because of it,” she said. “And now, a lot of my own personal friends, people I care about, they’re going to find themselves affected.”
But Trump’s decision to end DACA—as well as his stepped-up immigration enforcement, stalled attempts to block Muslims from entering the country and statements defending white supremacists in Charlottesville—have Velazquez noticing parallels between her community and America’s founding fathers. It starts with a story about her parents.
“I remember they would take me to the Capitol to ask for drivers licenses for undocumented people,” she recounted. “It was many years before it happened. I remember it was a very different environment. No one came forward. No one admitted their status. Even now, the older generation does not want to admit its status. I hear from my mom all the time, ‘Don’t put your name out there. Don’t go out there. Stay under the radar.’
“But this new, younger generation, it’s kind of like we grew up with the American spirit. We’re rebels, and we don’t listen to that. We all grew up learning about the revolutionaries who stood up to their government. We’ve all been indoctrinated in that American spirit.”
Velazquez said many of her friends are continuing to speak about their undocumented status on social media, “even though they know they’re at risk now. They kind of have nothing to lose at this moment.”