Viridiana Martinez was only 7 years old when she and her family left Mexico for a better life in the United States.
Now, 31, Martinez, who works with Alerta Migratoria NC, a group that supports immigrants seeking asylum, wonders if her own immigration status will ever be settled.
The cause of Martinez’s unease and that of an estimated 65,000 others in North Carolina, was U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement Tuesday that the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be rolled back over the next six months because it does not square with immigration law.
The 2012 program protects hundreds of thousands of people such as Martinez who entered the United States illegally as children.
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It shields them from deportation, allows them to obtain work permits, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and other forms of identification.
Children are also allowed to attend schools, graduate and often remain in the country.
“Everyone is feeling very sad and very angry about the fact that this announcement was made,” Martinez said.
Martinez, who came of age politically and socially in 2010 fighting for a law to protect “DREAMers,” said she and others knew then that the DACA program could be overturned if it was not supported by the sitting president.
The DREAM Act (short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) would have granted legal status to certain undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children who went to school here. Congress never passed it, leading to DACA.
“We realized that it was only a temporary program,” Martinez said. “Now, we have to fight once again and it seems like some of us have been fighting for years.”
The Trump administration said DACA would be allowed to wind down over the next six months and that Congress would get a chance to make President Barack Obama’s executive action law.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Durham, issued a statement contending Trump has not lived up to his pledge to the more than 800,000 DACA recipients.
“Today, President Trump has failed to ‘show great heart’ to the hundreds of thousands of young people whose lives are now in peril with the announcement that his Administration will end the DACA program,” Butterfield said. “All DACA recipients grew up in America, are registered with our government, and have passed extensive background checks. More than 95 percent of DACA recipients are in school or in the workforce.”
Butterfield said ending DACA will “devastate lives, tear apart families, and disrupt our local communities.”
“I am an original sponsor of bipartisan immigration reform legislation that would create a path to permanent legal status for DREAMers, and I call on Speaker [Paul] Ryan to do the right thing and immediately bring it to the floor for a vote,” Butterfield said.
Impact on schools?
Durham Public Schools officials were still weighing the potential impact of Sessions’ announcement on students Tuesday afternoon.
Shortly after Trump was elected president DPS noticed a spike in absences among Hispanic students who feared being deported because of Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about immigration during the 2016 presidential campaign.
DPS officials also blamed the nearly doubling of the number of Hispanic students dropping out of school in 2015 on Trump’s rhetoric.
“I think the board will have many of the same concerns about making sure all of our kids feel welcome and safe in our schools everyday,” school board member Natalie Beyer said Tuesday. “I think across North Carolina and the nation people do not blame children and think they should have a clear path to citizenship.”
School board Chairman Mike Lee anticipates speaking with his colleagues this week.
“Based on our history, I suspect we will come out strongly in favor of keeping those students [who might be impacted when DACA ends],” Lee said.
The Durham school board has passed several resolutions in recent years such as the one in February 2016 opposing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions on school grounds and the deportation of DPS students.
And in June, the board approved revisions to school policy that are intended to better protect student privacy.
Although the policy protects all student, the policy, which strengthened rules around sharing confidential student information with law enforcement agencies, came about as a result of several high-profile cases in Durham involving immigrant students who faced deportation.
A spokesman with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools said the district has not yet assessed the impact on of the decision on students there.