As President Donald Trump continues to fulfill many of his campaign trail promises—such as a ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries entering the U.S. and a relaunch of the Dakota Access pipeline— the nightmare of him making good on his threat to undo protections for millions of undocumented immigrants gets closer and closer to reality.
Trump also promised to repeal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans), two programs that have provided vital protections for undocumented people. He said during the campaign that he would immediately deport all undocumented people who had committed crimes and anyone who had overstayed a visa–adding up to five million people to begin with, according to the Washington Post.
On Wednesday, Trump threatened sanctuary cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago–which have pledged not to cooperate with the federal government if they target their residents for deportation–with sanctions. The mayors of those cities responded with defiance.
But what does this mean for real people? A story by Dale Russakoff in this week's New York Times Magazine explores what it's like to fear being suddenly deported from the only place you know as home through the eyes of Indira Islas, an 18-year-old undocumented immigrant whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico as a child under harrowing circumstances.
The family moved to Georgia, where Islas, a straight-A student and the oldest of seven children, nurtured dreams of following in her parents' footsteps to become a doctor. Now, she lives in constant fear of her mother being deported after a car accident in 2011 exposed her mother as undocumented:
Indira’s mother was held in Gainesville’s Hall County jail for three days, but that wasn’t the most frightening part for the family. Hall is one of four counties in Georgia that have a formal agreement to report arrests of undocumented immigrants to the Department of Homeland Security, which means that infractions as minor as a burned-out bulb above a license plate can spiral into deportation proceedings. Indira’s mother says that her charge of driving without a license ultimately led to a referral to immigration court and a deportation order instructing her to leave the country within 30 days. She stayed, slipping into the shadows. Every day since, Indira says, she and her siblings have feared that their mother would be deported. It would take only one more traffic stop.
Islas also found that discrimination against undocumented immigrants hindered her attempts to succeed academically:
She was distressed to discover that Georgia barred undocumented immigrants from attending its top public universities and charged them out-of-state tuition at all others — triple the rate for citizen residents. She then turned to researching financial aid and learned that Congress barred her from accessing federal Pell grants, loans, scholarships and work-study jobs — the most common forms of assistance for low-income students. At first, she greeted this as just another set of obstacles to surmount, but as time went on, she began to despair.
Eventually, Islas made her way to a school in Delaware which was more welcoming to undocumented students. Russakoff writes that she and the other undocumented students she knew were hopeful that a Hillary Clinton presidency would give them some breathing room. Instead, Trump won. Now, Islas is determined to stay on her path. As Russakoff writes:
“The only way we can fight back is to excel in school,” Indira wrote to me in a text message. She felt weary in the aftermath of the election, but when she had this epiphany, she said: “I wasn’t tired anymore. I had that drive, that hunger to just come out on top. I was angry. I was staying at the library longer, going to the gym a lot more.”
That attitude reflects what I heard from undocumented Harvard graduates I spoke to in the days immediately following Trump's election. Tania Amarillas, 23, graduated last year and on a public service scholarship working on a college access program and an immigration law clinic. She told me, "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."