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DACA ‘dreamers’ fear nightmare immigration policy

November 18, 2016 at 6:35 PM EST
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, created in an executive order by President Obama, permits undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to work and study here on a temporary basis. Now, many are worried that President-elect Donald Trump will repeal the action -- and thus deliver drastic consequences for the 800,000 so-called “dreamers.” Jeffrey Brown reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: our coverage of the agenda of President-elect Trump and the potential impact of some big changes.

One of the major themes of his campaign was cracking down on immigration, not just of those who are undocumented, but also hundreds of thousands of people who’ve obtained temporary legal status during the Obama years. Now those young adults are uncertain and anxious about what’s to come.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

DIANA CHACON, DACA Recipient: I was 11 years old when I immigrated to the United States. I didn’t know what being undocumented was. I didn’t even know that a piece of paper can actually determine my whole future.

I thought that working really hard throughout high school would give me the same opportunities that most have, ones that graduated. Like, you can go apply to any college you want, go study upstate.

JEFFREY BROWN: Twenty-one-year-old Diana Chacon has come a long way from her birth in Lima, Peru. She’s now a student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

But her path forward could get much tougher. Chacon is a recipient of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration policy that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children to work and study here legally on a temporary basis.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If there is a young person here who has grown up here and wants to contribute to this society, wants to maybe start a business that will create jobs for other folks who are looking for work, that’s the right thing to do.

DIANA CHACON: DACA changed my life. It allowed me to be involved in school more, spend more time doing my class work assignments, spend more time applying for programs, and just get involved in my community in general.

I stopped making excuses for who I was and what position I was in. I was so encouraged to keep going. I was encouraged to pursue law school. I knew that all the things I have been doing to this point were projecting me into a better future, into a better life. And all of that’s going to change because, you know, now Donald Trump is president.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is a temporary stopgap measure.

JEFFREY BROWN: Unable to get immigration legislation passed, President Obama used his executive power to create DACA. Now, just as easily, it could be undone, with enormous potential consequences for Chacon and the 800,000 other recipients known as dreamers.

DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws and to have a country.

JEFFREY BROWN: In addition to building a wall, Donald Trump as a candidate made the repeal of DACA a top priority. And since the election, dreamers and other immigrants have protested across the country.

Teresa Galindo, who brought her two sons to the U.S. from Mexico after her husband’s death, marched at a Sunday Midtown Manhattan rally. Her youngest, Carlos, now 31, was just 2 years old when he entered the country.

TERESA GALINDO, Undocumented Mother (through translator): It wasn’t their fault and it’s still not their fault. They’re here because I brought them when they were very young. I did it as a mother to give my kids the best. I wanted to, and I still want to give them the best. Back in my country, they couldn’t even get an education.

JEFFREY BROWN: Carlos got his education, and four years ago became a DACA recipient. He now works at an immigrants rights organization in Staten Island helping others find legal and other resources. His own uncertain future, he says, now informs his work and activism.

So, if DACA is repealed, what would happen?

CARLOS VARGAS, Immigrant Activist: I don’t know. And that’s the scary part. It’s a little bit frightening. But we’re going to fight. Right? If they do take it away, we demand something better.

JEFFREY BROWN: But what does that mean? I mean, what would you do?

CARLOS VARGAS: Go out. The dreamer movement has been alive since 2001. DACA wasn’t given to us because the president woke up one day and said, I really feel for you youth. I’m going to give you DACA.

We fought for it. There was a lot of civil disobedience. There was a lot of organizing. And I think that just means we’re going to do that to a bigger scale now.

JEFFREY BROWN: Staten Island is home to a fast-growing immigrant community, many, like Vargas, from Mexico. It’s also the only one of New York’s five boroughs to vote for Donald Trump.

And it’s not hard to find Trump supporters like Sebastian Demetrio, a 78-year-old veteran, bagel shop worker and himself an immigrant from Eastern Europe.

SEBASTIAN DEMETRIO, Trump Supporter: I came here legal. My father was working here. I came as a legal immigrant. A lot of people are sneaking up in this country. They’re taking our jobs. And I think we need a change. Take care of your own people first before you take care of the other people that don’t belong in this country.

JEFFREY BROWN: Staten Island City Councilman Joe Borelli served as a co-chairman for the Trump campaign here in New York.

JOSEPH BORELLI, Staten Island City Councilman: It’s the sentiment that we ought to be a nation of laws. You know, Staten Island is a place where many immigrants come to.

Of course, New York is broadly the home of immigration to this country. The majority of people who come to New York as immigrants come here through a legal process, just like many people’s ancestors did through Ellis Island. Fifty percent of our small businesses here in New York City are owned by immigrants or people of color or some combination thereof.

They are making New York great. And they are making America great. As long as you follow the rules, you should be welcome here.

JEFFREY BROWN: His message to constituents fearing deportation now?

JOSEPH BORELLI: I would tell these people to relax slightly. And I understand it’s concerning. But they should wait to see what the administration puts forth.

DONALD TRUMP: We’re getting them out of our country. They’re here illegally.

JEFFREY BROWN: In his first televised interview as president-elect, Mr. Trump pledged to focus first on deporting immigrants with criminal records. He’s yet to clarify his position on DACA.

Diana Chacon has no criminal record, but she’s hardly comforted.

DIANA CHACON: When you’re deporting one undocumented person, you’re basically deporting everybody else with that person, not physically, but emotionally. Like, it’s that baggage that’s left behind. It’s not just me, just not you.

It’s everybody who is going to be affected indirectly. And separating families, separating friendships, separating communities, in my eyes, it’s a form of violence.

JEFFREY BROWN: For now, she remains focused on her future.

DIANA CHACON: I don’t want to think that because my life is in somebody else’s hands at the moment means that I don’t have control over it anymore. I am so much more than the narratives that are out there about me, about my community.

You know that’s something you can’t control. But what I can control is how I’m going to go about it and how I’m going to take the few next steps. I’m not going to let one piece of paper define me. I’m not going to let a president define me. I can’t.

JEFFREY BROWN: From New York, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”

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