When I first spoke to Tania Amarillas in May of this year, it was at a moment of cautious optimism. She was just about to graduate from Harvard, the first in her family to go to an Ivy League college, and the first of her siblings to apply for and receive Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Obama’s amnesty for undocumented childhood immigrants. Her graduation was a remarkable achievement, with the shadow of anxiety about her immigration status always lingering. When I spoke to her the day after Donald Trump was elected to be the next president, her worries loomed larger than ever.
Trump has said he plans to repeal DACA and its companion piece for undocumented parents, DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans). He has said he would immediately deport all undocumented people who had committed crimes, and anyone who had overstayed a visa. The total number of people who will be targeted for immediate deportation if Trump goes ahead with his plans is at least five million, according to an analysis from the Washington Post.
On Wednesday Amarillas, 23, was devastated but defiant. She followed her plan after graduating to go home to Los Angeles, where she’s on a public service scholarship working on a college access program and an immigration law clinic. DACA has meant that, like some 819,512 other young undocumented people, she can work and plan lives in the country they call home.
She said she tried to go to work as usual the morning after the election, but quickly realized she needed some time to process her emotions and spend time with her siblings, both of whom are also undocumented.
“We’re at a point where I can’t tell my sister how we’re moving forward. My brother’s applying to college and I don’t know what to say,” she said. “I think its best to just take a day for all of us and just mourn and process what’s happened.”
Right now, she told me, being supportive and reliable for her students, many of whom are undocumented or low-income Latinx students, is a large part of what will keeping her going in the coming months.
“I think its just keeping my students’ hopes alive, letting them know that we’re here for them and that regardless of what the future holds they deserve to go to college and get an education,” she said. “I’ll be there for them day in and day out.”
As for President-elect Trump’s stated plan to repeal DACA and DAPA, she said she’s not giving up on her community’s needs.
“I will continue to fight for my community, to make sure there are students who look like us, who get their education. There’s so much that DACA was able to do for me, so now its’ a little scary to think of what life would be like without it at this point–we will continue to fight and we’re not going anywhere,” she said.
That sentiment is something I heard from another young woman who graduated with Amarillas from Harvard, Sonia Espinosa, on Wednesday.
“If we get enough people to mobilize and if we’re not complacent and if we start calling on legislatures, and saying ‘I’m undocumented,’ or ‘My friend is,’ it won’t happen,” Espinosa, also 23, said. “If anything I think the way we can see this in a positive light is by saying that if Trump can become president we can definitely mobilize ourselves to create whatever laws we want to see. We can do all of that.”
She’s been working on setting up a legal marijuana business in Massachusetts since graduating earlier this year, working with an advocacy group that, among other things, fights for people of color to have greater access to the booming legal marijuana industry. The state just voted for a measure legalizing weed for recreational use. In light of that change, she’s a little more optimistic about what’s possible for her future. What that future holds in terms of immigration reform is still unclear. How swiftly Trump can fulfill his campaign promises, whether he really intends to, and even the logistics of whether the Department of Homeland Security has the resources to carry out his plans, continue to be open questions. Regardless, Trump’s presidency puts at least 11 million undocumented Americans like Espinosa and Amarillas and their families at risk
But both women told me that instead of fearing Trump’s threats, they see this turn of events as an opportunity to be more vocal than ever on behalf of themselves and their loved ones.
“This is a wake up call for a lot of people who aren’t on the front lines, who aren’t activists in their every day, who just see a post on Facebook and move on,” said Amarillas. “It’s really a wake up call for those people. To stand up and say, this isn’t what half the country believes. You have to be willing to stand up for your friends and stand up for your family. We can’t let hate win.”
Espinosa said she’s realized that publicly coming out as undocumented is a powerful act in itself. She’s keen to start conversations with the people who voted for Trump, to tell them about what undocumented immigrants contribute to the U.S. and what the community really looks like.
“This is a wake up call for a lot of people who aren’t on the front lines, who aren’t activists in their every day, who just see a post on Facebook and move on”- Tania Amarillas
And to other young undocumented people anxiously watching the Trump presidency begin to unfold, Amarillas has a message.
“You’re loved and your life matters and your experiences matter, and we’re here for you,” she said. “We’re here to fight for you and your family. There is a community out here and we’re ready to fight for them.”