WASHINGTON ― A week after the first reports that President Donald Trump was set to end protections for young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, the nearly 800,000 so-called Dreamers still don’t know where they stand.
Dreamers worried Trump might terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants work permits and deportation reprieve, last Friday ― but he didn’t. Trump didn’t make announcements over the weekend, either. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday went by, and there were more reports that a decision was imminent. On Thursday, news outlets reported that Trump was set to end the program, but there has still been no official announcement. (The White House said Thursday that it’s still under review.)
For the people whose lives would be upended if Trump takes away DACA, the wait has been agonizing.
“I want to know what’s going to happen now so I can have one of my Plan Bs and start strategizing for that,” Angelica Villalobos, a DACA recipient and organizer with the group Dream Act Oklahoma, said.
She and her friends and fellow advocates have been texting and emailing daily about what’s going on, even though none of them really know. There are a number of possible outcomes, most of them frightening for Dreamers, such as the immediate termination of their work permits. As of Thursday afternoon, Trump was reportedly planning to end DACA and let recipients keep their two-year work permits until they expire, which would still result in all DACA-holders losing the ability to work legally and becoming at risk of deportation.
On Tuesday evening, Villalobos left Oklahoma on a red-eye so she could be in Washington for advocacy efforts when the decision comes down. She is in the unique position of having a personal assurance from a top Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), that she should be allowed to stay in the U.S., having asked Ryan about her status during a CNN town hall in January.
Villalobos, a 32-year-old married mother of four, has a DACA permit that’s set to expire in November, she said. Her husband has DACA as well, while her daughters are U.S.-born citizens. DACA has allowed Villalobos to get a better-paying job and accreditation to assist others with immigration filings. She is also able to do more volunteering, because she has a Social Security number and can undergo the background check required for some organizations. She has a driver’s license ― which most states do not grant to undocumented immigrants ― and doesn’t need to fear being pulled over while driving without one.
Villalobos said her children are aware of their parents’ immigration status. She’s talked to them about the latest reports that Trump could end DACA, although she doesn’t want to worry them when there’s so much else going on, like the beginning of their school year. Villalobos is most worried about younger DACA recipients who have never lived as adults without that status. They don’t know what it’s like not to be able to work legally, and to be at constant risk of removal.
“My oldest ― the first thing she said was ‘It will be OK, Mom,’” Villalobos said. “When she said that, I wished I could say the same thing.”
Dreamers all around the country are going through the same frustrations. Jessica Azua, a 26-year-old DACA recipient, works on immigration issues with the Texas Organizing Project in San Antonio. She first received the protections in 2012 and sent in her most recent renewal application last week. The program has allowed her to get a driver’s license and a job she loves, and she hopes to go back to school for a master’s degree.
When Azua heard the most recent reports about an imminent threat to DACA, she called her mother to try and sort out her emotions.
“I was angry, I was sad. I really wanted to cry, as well,” she said. “I needed to let out all of my feelings that I was feeling at the moment when I heard that it was a serious threat, because the next day I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I needed to show strength, I wanted to be strong for everyone.”
Since then, Azua has tried to focus on what she can do. She went to a training in Chicago this week to learn more about how to give “know your rights” presentations to other immigrants, which she helps lead as part of her organizing job.
“When we don’t know what’s going to happen, we just need to keep going and moving forward,” she said.
Immigration attorneys and advocates are being inundated with questions from Dreamers who want to know what is happening. The problem, said Minnesota immigration attorney Kara Lynum, is that the lawyers and advocates don’t know either. Lynum has between 100 and 150 DACA clients, and has heard from about 50 of them in the past week. As of now, there’s not much she can tell them except that their work permits are still valid. She also reminds them of their rights should they encounter Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It’s really challenging, because I want to give my clients as much information so they can make the best decisions possible for themselves and their families, and... I can’t do that because we don’t know either,” she said. “It’s really frustrating as an attorney to say to a client, ‘I just watch the news and read the newspaper too. We know the same things.’”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Azua’s group. It is the Texas Organizing Project, not the Texas Organizing Projection.