President-elect Donald Trump’s victory plunged the future of undocumented immigrants in New Mexico and around the country into uncertainty. Many are fearful of a ramp-up in deportations even beyond the nearly 2.9 million people deported under the Obama administration through fiscal 2015.
But one group – young people whose temporary status could be easily undone by the new administration – sounded defiant in the election’s wake.
Meet 20-year-old Josue De Luna, a student, and 25-year-old Estefanía Ortiz, a mother and grass-roots organizer. They are two of the 10,531 New Mexicans – 741,000 young people nationwide called the DREAMers – for whom possible deportation has been stayed by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Introduced first in Congress as the Dream Act, DACA is an executive order signed by Obama in 2012 after Congress failed to pass legislation that would have granted some undocumented immigrants who came as children a path to legal residency. DACA doesn’t grant lawful status, but it defers deportation for up to two years, is renewable and allows recipients to study or work.
De Luna studies chemical and biological engineering at the University of New Mexico. He is working through his third year but, since the election, there is no guarantee of a fourth.
De Luna was brought by his parents to New Mexico from Mexico when he was 9 years old. They came illegally.
He grew up in Santa Fe, in the shadows – until DACA.
Trump had vowed to undo many of Obama’s executive orders, but has since walked back some of his promises since the election: for example, saying he first aims to deport 2 million to 3 million “criminal illegal aliens” rather than all of the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the country. (Note: The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute places the number of criminal undocumented immigrants nationwide at 820,000.)
So it is unclear what Trump will do with DACA.
Whatever comes after Inauguration Day, De Luna says he and other advocates are bracing for a fight.
“We are concerned about our future, but we are definitely here to stay,” he told me. “This is our home. It’s going to be four years of intense fighting and trying to protect all the progress the immigrant movement has accomplished.”
Young undocumented immigrants fought loud and hard to win even temporary status, risking exposure to immigration authorities along the way.
A tied Supreme Court ruling in June blocked some expansions of the DACA program but left current recipients’ work and study authorizations in place.
Estefanía Ortiz is raising three kids in Farmington – an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old twins, boy and girl.
Her parents brought her to New Mexico from Mexico, illegally, when she was 2 years old; her own children are U.S. citizens. She works with the advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, thanks to DACA.
“To be honest with you, Trump is nothing new to us, especially here in San Juan County,” where immigrant advocates say local law enforcement works closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she said. “We have been struggling with the Martinez administration for six years. She based her campaign on anti-immigrant rhetoric. We fought and fought and fought over driver’s license issues.”
Then, she said – I could almost hear the sound of her digging in her heels, over the phone – “DACA isn’t something that was just given us. We fought for many years. We knew there was always room for fighting for something better, something more inclusive where we could have reunification of families. This is just our wake-up call to continue doing that.”
In a twist not uncommon in our country’s often inexplicable immigration system, De Luna’s parents are in the process of legalizing their status. Which means, De Luna said, “In my whole family, I’m the only one” at risk of deportation.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Lauren Villagran in Las Cruces at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.