By Eleanor Mueller and Kimberly Escobar
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — In the wake of the Nov. 8 election, immigration advocates in Maryland have been bracing themselves to protect the rights of the Latino community’s most vulnerable population — the undocumented.
As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, Hispanic immigrants and the organizations behind them are waiting to see whether the new administration will follow through on his pledges to deport the undocumented.
In the meantime, groups like the National Council of La Raza are working to provide information, mental health services and legal counsel to this primarily Hispanic population as they come to terms with the country’s new leader and the rhetoric his campaign has cultivated.
“We are facing a very new reality for the Latino community,” said Gabriela Gomez, communications coordinator for Hispanic advocacy group National Council of La Raza. “And the most vulnerable community are those individuals who are undocumented.”
University of Maryland, College Park government and politics associate professor Stella Rouse said that undocumented immigrants now face a lot of uncertainty.
While campaigning, Trump promised to deport as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants. While he appears to have softened a bit on that pledge, he remains adamant about building a wall along the nation’s Mexican border.
“Trust me, we’re going to build a wall,” Trump said Thursday during an appearance in Indiana, adding “we’ll have doors in that wall, but they’re going to come through legally.”
He also has threatened to repeal the Obama administration’s Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals executive order.
That policy protects undocumented immigrants from deportation and provides them with temporary work permits, but does not guarantee permit holders any path to legal residency or citizenship.
“The DACA policies that are essentially protecting the undocumented immigrants who are here illegally is one of the biggest concerns at the moment in terms of what is going to happen. What are (Trump’s) policies in terms of enforcing their deportation, and what is going to encompass this plan of deportation?” asked Rouse, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship.
Trump so far has not announced his choice to head the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over immigration enforcement. That pick will send a signal about the direction the new administration’s policies will take on issues like the DACA order.
“We’ve seen a lot of fear — extreme fear — from the DACA community,” Gomez said. “The DACA individuals are the ones who, at this point, are very, very vulnerable.”
Although La Raza is encouraging these individuals to renew their DACA status, the group is advising against applying for the first time.
“We’re seeing this wave of hate,” Gomez said. “It’s in this wave we have to see what’s going to happen.”
President-elect Trump told “60 Minutes” in November that he planned to deport up to 3 million “criminal” undocumented immigrants.
However, Rouse said, he wouldn’t necessarily succeed.
“This would have to be at the federal level that Trump would have to put together a large immigration force to make that happen,” she said. “I just don’t think there is going to be any kind of political support for that, but he can certainly use the power of the federal government and through executive order to try and entice cities to do more to crack down on illegal immigration.”
A 2013 Department of Homeland Security fiscal report, however, estimates that there are roughly 1.9 million removable “criminal aliens” in the United States.
A Migration Policy Institute study reports that, based on 2008 to 2014 Census data and other information, there were about 253,000 undocumented immigrants living in Maryland, including an estimated 156,000 people born in Mexico and Central America, and South America.
Cities with large undocumented populations could see see federal funding, like education, cut, if their status as sanctuary jurisdictions remains the same, Rouse said.
Though without a legal definition, sanctuary jurisdictions limit local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration officials, and are reluctant to prosecute residents solely based on their undocumented status.
In Maryland, those jurisdictions would include Baltimore, as well as Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, Rouse said.
”It’s going to be (a) very interesting battle, particularly in counties that have a large undocumented immigrant population and have a lot of kids who may be children of undocumented immigrants or may be undocumented themselves and have been here from a very young age,” she said.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, announced in November that immigrants and refugees are welcome. Rawlings-Blake promised that the city’s police will not be checking the citizenship status of the people they interact with.
Maryland Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen, also a Democrat, said immigrants contribute to the state’s economy with small businesses that generate new jobs.
“Enacting Trump’s program of mass deportation is simply unacceptable, and I will fight it in the U.S. Senate,” Van Hollen told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.
“Maryland has led the charge on this important issue, passing the Dream Act referendum in our state to give opportunities to those who came to the U.S. as young children and have grown up here,” Van Hollen said. “We must do the same in the federal level. I will fight any efforts to roll that back under the Trump Administration.”
The 2012 Dream Act allows Maryland’s undocumented high school graduates to attend community college and then public four-year universities at in-state rates.
“Some of Obama’s policies certainly let them (undocumented immigrants) come out of the shadows and live in the open, which I’m sure was a welcomed thing,” Rouse said. “The best thing that they can do is lobby local officials and get them on the record about what they are going to do if these policies come down. Local governments are not the arm of the federal government.”
“In a nutshell, our clients are worried and scared,” said Valerie Twanmoh, director of Catholic Charities’ Esperanza Center, an immigrant resource center in Baltimore.
Fears of deportation have deterred the Esperanza Center’s clients from getting the services they usually do, Twanmoh said.
“In the few days immediately following the election, we’ve had fewer clients coming in,” Twanmoh said. “When they’re fearful, they’re worried, they’re at greater risk — they tend not to access services they need.”
Concern over losing contact with family members is a major worry among the undocumented, Twanmoh said. “And of course, fear of having to go back to an environment they fled because their life was in danger or they were at risk of harm,” Twanmoh said.
Esperanza Center employees are working to combat this fear by informing immigrants about their rights, Twanmoh said.
“Anyone who comes in, we try to talk about what are the facts,” Twanmoh said. “The more information they have, they better armed they are, and they can plan and cope with whatever may come.”
Of particular concern for her clients is notario fraud, Twanmoh said.
Notarios, or immigration consultants, are scammers who use false advertising and fraudulent contracts to portray themselves as qualified to provide legal counsel to immigrants. The undocumented often pay these consultants large sums of money for citizenship status or other legal services that they never receive, sometimes permanently losing their right to immigration relief in the process, according to the American Bar Association.
During periods of uncertainty over immigration law enforcement, these incidents increase in frequency, Twanmoh said.
The Esperanza Center is partnering with various other organizations to establish legal clinics that would help connect Maryland immigrants with pro bono attorneys.
Because immigration cases classify as civil rather than criminal, poor immigrants are not entitled to a public attorney and so often enter court unrepresented.
“There’s a huge need for attorneys to volunteer,” Twanmoh said. “We have a number right now, but we need more.”
The Esperanza Center is also working to provide mental health services for immigrants, Twanmoh said. Because many of its clients are not eligible for insurance, most are not receiving the mental health care they need; a deficiency heightened in the wake of the Nov. 8 election.
“In times like these, the need is even greater,” Twanmoh said. “Our clients typically have stresses most of us don’t … Times are even tougher now.”
“Now more than ever, we have to be united,” Gomez said. “We are living in unprecedented times in terms of this hateful rhetoric, and we need to stay to together to support the most vulnerable in the community.”