SANTA FE – Hugo Medina walked across a parking lot on a recent sunny day at Santa Fe Community College on his way to lunch with friends.
Medina, 31, is good with numbers, studies for a double major and works at the college business office as an accounts payable cashier. But President-elect Donald Trump’s election has cast a pall over this Mexican immigrant who came to Santa Fe with his parents and siblings when he was 15.
Medina is not a U.S. citizen, but lives here legally, like thousands of other immigrants who came here young, under the now-tenuous auspices of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by the executive order of President Barack Obama in 2012.
Obama’s signature in this case is not indelible and what his pen authorized Trump’s can eliminate.
“Since it’s an executive order … our next president with one signature can revoke it and I’ll be back to being undocumented again, illegal,” Medina said in a recent interview.
“If he signs he doesn’t want this program anymore, then we are going to have ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on our door,” he said.
Karla Rodriguez Romero, 25, who also has legal status under DACA, works as an educational assistant for Santa Fe Public Schools and is from Chihuahua, Mexico. She was 12 when she came to the U.S. and shares Medina’s fears.
If Trump “decides that denying us the opportunity to keep the DACA program alive is a good idea, I, like many others, will lose my job, but that is the least important thing he can take away from me,” she said in an email. Even before the election, “he took my peace, my sense of living at a safe place,” she wrote.
But Trump’s camp says people are overreacting to the president-elect’s comments on immigration.
“He wants people to be here legally,” said Trump adviser and former campaign spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway in a recent TV interview on the PBS “News Hour.”
“If you are a good person, if you’re here and you would like to stay here,” she said, ” … They are not who he is talking about when he says, ‘We are first going to get rid of the 2 million or so … criminals who don’t belong here.'”
She said Trump is going to secure the border and build a wall there, “and then he is going to take a look at who is here and decide.”
Medina and Rodriguez Romero both work with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a nonprofit that gives free legal representation to young immigrants and their families.
The issue is beyond legalities, said Rodriguez Romero. Trump “has aroused hatred, racism, violence between whites and people of color,” she wrote in her email. “He has sent the message that it is okay and it is acceptable to classify people by the color of their skin, by where they come from, and by their language, he made it OK to hate others and make them feel less.”
Asked during a recent “60 Minutes” about the rash of harassment incidents in schools and elsewhere targeting immigrants since his election, Trump said, “I will say this, and I will say it right to the cameras: Stop it.”
“I fear the future, now I am anxious about what awaits,” said Rodriguez Romero. “Everything is on the tightrope because we really do not know what is going to happen and that is the most stressful thing for me, not being able to make a plan because we simply don’t know what he’s (Trump) going to do.”
Those accepted under DACA now get a two-year, renewable work permit, and must provide authorities with current addresses and other information. “We don’t know what he (Trump) is going to do with this information, if he is going to provide it to ICE,” said Medina.
Medina and his family lived in Mexico City, but left after his father was the victim of an “express,” or short-lived, kidnapping by people who wanted to open a competing business in the neighborhood and used violent threats, he said. “Either you close your business or you are dead,” Medina said the family was told.
Medina wants Trump “to know that not all the undocumented people are bad” or a drain on society. “Many people here think because you are here illegally you don’t pay taxes and they are completely wrong,” he said.
Critics claim DACA was an illegal overreach of executive power by Obama after Congress had repeatedly rejected versions of the so-called Dream Act that would have granted conditional or permanent residency to people who came to the country illegally as children. Trump has pledged to end Obama’s executive orders on immigration, which include DACA.
DACA’s work authorizations and deferral of deportation for participants continue under a 2012 executive order, while a proposed 2014 expansion by Obama has been halted by a federal court order.
Wednesday evening, Medina’s employer and place of study – Santa Fe Community College – was declared a “sanctuary campus” by vote of the SFCC’s elected board, with policies including restrictions on release of information on students’ immigration status and denying federal agents access to campus to enforce immigration rules.
Trump’s positions on deportations – somewhat softened since the election – and his border wall plans brought mixed reactions from other Santa Fe residents originally from Mexico and Central America, several of whom gave only first names and not their legal status during recent interviews.
Jose, from Michoacan, Mexico, works in construction. Trump’s campaign comments were “racist,” he said in Spanish. Although Trump may try to stop illegal immigration, “el hambre no parar (hunger does not stop),” Jose said, referring to what can spur people to leave their homelands.
But Luis, from Chihuahua, like Jose looking for work at the city’s designated waiting spot for day laborers at downtown’s DeVargas Park, thought Trump could help the economy because he is “very intelligent” and has “large business enterprises.”
Alejandro, a cook from Chihuahua interviewed outside the Latinos Unidos Mini Market on Airport Road, said he is in the process of legalizing his status. He is “a little afraid” about Trump’s comments and called the wall idea “a disaster.”
Inside the Mini Market, where colorful, candy-filled piñatas (but none of Trump) hang from the ceiling, Jose from El Salvador is behind the counter conducting transactions with immigrants sending money home to relatives.
“Many people (their clients) are afraid” of what may happen, said Jose. He was less certain about opposing a border wall, noting the threats of terrorism and drug smuggling.
Santa Fe as sanctuary
Local immigrant rights organizations are also vowing push back against Trump’s plan to eliminate sanctuary cities like Santa Fe, which have non-discrimination policies that avow local law enforcement will not ask a person’s immigration status. There are 340 cities in the U.S. with some form of sanctuary policies and Trump has threatened to cut the federal funds they receive.
Local cops “being part of that mass deportation force that Trump is promising is not acceptable for a community like Santa Fe,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, founded in 1999.
“I think we will fight for our families on so many different fronts,” said Díaz.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, who recently became de facto spokesman for sanctuary cities in a series of interviews on Fox News, CNN and National Public Radio, denounced Trump’s threats on deportation and cutting funds. “Where we’re unique is that Mexican and the Central American and the South American immigration have been part of Santa Fe’s story for those 400 years,” said Gonzales.
While most experts agree it’s impossible to deport 11 million or 12 million undocumented immigrants, because of Trump’s comments “there is fear and uncertainty in our community,” said Díaz. “When you say you are going to deport people, even though you know you can’t do it, what that’s really meant to do is to instill fear.”
According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute website, Santa Fe has 19,000 immigrants from all countries out of a Metropolitan Statistical Area population of 146,000. The Santa Fe Dreamers Project estimates there are 15,000 dreamers in New Mexico.
Rodriguez Romero, in the DACA program, is resolute. “We must prepare because hard times are coming, but our community must be ready to come together and face the hard times together as we empower each other being united.”