COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — While reports circulate that the Trump administration is closer to resolving questions left after last week’s immigration announcement, Maryland’s undocumented residents are uncertain of what comes next.
In conversations following the White House announcement, three of Maryland’s “dreamers,” as they are often called, told Capital News Service they are worried about their future without the legal protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
“When you’re undocumented, the only thing you can rely on is your community,” said Nathaly Uribe Robledo, 22, of Glen Burnie, Maryland. “For a lot of us, this will be the first time that we will be living undocumented as adults with adult responsibilities.”
Robledo arrived with her mother from Chile 20 years ago on tourist visas, she told Capital News Service.
“I’ve been here since I was 2 years old, and I have very little memory – if any – of Chile,” she said. “All of my life and my memories, all of my special life events, have occurred here in the U.S.”
“The main reason my parents decided to come to the U.S. was the lack of opportunity in Chile,” Robledo continued. “There was so much economic instability in Chile, and coming to the U.S. meant a better opportunity for a better life.”
DACA was created in 2012 under an executive order issued by President Barack Obama shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation and granting them two-year renewable work permits.
Since the program began, almost 800,000 people have been approved. To be eligible, immigrants had to be between the ages of 16 and 31 as of June 25, 2012. They also had to have lived in the United States since 2007, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Robledo applied for her first permit in 2012 and again when the program was briefly expanded to three-year stays in 2014. She applied most recently in July.
President Donald Trump on Sept. 5 gave Congress six months to find a legislative solution to address the program. New DACA applications will no longer be accepted but undocumented immigrants who are already covered can still apply for renewal, as long it is by Oct. 5.
“I can personally say that (with DACA) I finally felt like an average, normal American teenager,” Robledo said.
She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, until financial struggles forced her to withdraw in 2014. Robledo was pursuing a double major in biology and political science with dreams of becoming a representative in Congress. She now works at an insurance agency in Baltimore.
“I’m very lucky, in a way, and privileged – which is kind of an oxymoron – to be in a situation where my friends are very supportive of me and my employer is very supportive,” Robledo said.
The decision, while anticipated, felt “devastating” for Robledo.
“I know my parents have made it 20 years undocumented, and I know that I can make it if I try, but it will be hard,” she said.
“I’m just so scared of the unknown because my whole life being undocumented so far has been while I was in school,” she added. “It’s already scary enough knowing that these are the years where you’re supposed to set everything in motion for the rest of your life.”
A coalition of leaders across the country has signed a pledge supporting the DACA recipients. Among those are many Maryland politicians, including 12 state senators and four mayors.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a joint statement Wednesday that Trump “agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”
Trump disputed the account on Twitter, saying that “no deal was made last night on DACA.”
“We cannot let the Trump Administration get away with tearing apart innocent families and wreaking havoc on our economy in Maryland,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a Sept. 5 statement.
As of March, there were roughly 9,700 Marylanders enrolled in the DACA program, according to data from USCIS.
In Maryland, DACA-eligible dreamers are mainly found in three counties, based on 2016 data released by the Migration Policy Institute: Montgomery (roughly 8,000), Prince George’s (6,000) and Baltimore (3,000).
The DACA-eligible population in Maryland accounts for about 9.5 percent of the state’s total unauthorized population, said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
The majority of DACA applicants in Maryland come from four countries: El Salvador (about 7,000 recipients), Mexico (5,000), Guatemala (4,000) and South Korea (2,000), per data from the institute.
‘More than just Latinos’
Cindy Kolade, 24, arrived in Baltimore shortly after her twelfth birthday with her mother from the Ivory Coast. Kolade said she will remain covered by DACA through February 2019.
“DACA gave me a little bit of the American dream because I was able to provide for myself and provide for my family,” Kolade said. “With DACA, I’m able to help my mom with the bills.”
She and her mother came straight to Maryland because “it’s the only place I have family.”
“Baltimore shaped me into the person I am today,” she said. “I’m able to survive on my own and take care of myself.”
Kolade works as a clinical lab assistant at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. In 2014, she transferred to Towson University from Baltimore Community College. She is still in school, majoring in molecular biology.
Kolade is registered under Maryland’s DREAM Act and also under DACA, and received her first DACA work permit in October 2012.
In 2012, Maryland passed its own DREAM Act to make in-state tuition accessible for its undocumented residents, provided they attended previous schooling in Maryland.
“With DACA, I really thought I had it all for a minute,” Kolade said. “But even though DACA doesn’t give us the whole American dream…, at least it gave us a chance to go to school, work, and be part of the American society.”
Trump’s announcement has changed Kolade’s thinking.
“You’ve given us something and you’ve taken it away from us,” she said. “You still have to worry about what happens next. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to stop in March or two or three years from now. It’s really devastating because you don’t know how you’re going to survive for yourself.”
Kolade believes the administration’s decision to rescind DACA is a sign that Trump doesn’t understand that communities other than Latinos depend on the legal protections.
“Although (African populations) are a small minority, we still depend on DACA and still feel protected by it,” Kolade said.
Brian Frosh, Maryland’s attorney general, announced Monday that Maryland will join Minnesota, California and Maine in a lawsuit against the decision to end DACA.
“The callous and cavalier action taken by the Trump Administration will destroy the lives of many immigrants who were brought here as infants and toddlers, who love the United States of America, who pay taxes and abide by the law,” Frosh said in a statement. “Ending the program would constitute a $509.4 million loss to the state’s annual GDP.”
Strength in Community
“When I graduated from community college in Maryland in 2011, there was no DACA,” said Jose Aguiluz, 28, a registered nurse from Silver Spring, Maryland, who arrived from Honduras when he was 15.
“I had an associate’s degree in nursing, but I was working as an electrician to pay my bills because it was the only job I could get,” Aguiluz said. “Then DACA came along and changed my life completely within the span of four months.”
Upon receiving his Social Security number and work permit, Aguiluz told Capital News Service, he found work in his field almost immediately.
“I went from being an electrician to having a job as an RN,” he said. “After being able to work legally, I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Maryland University College.”
Aguiluz had plans to continue his education, but is now at a loss because “pretty much everything has been placed on hold.”
“I was looking at my work permit this morning, and I have a stay here until November of next year when my permit expires,” he said.
In 2012, Aguiluz worked with advocates to pass Maryland’s DREAM Act.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” he said. “I brought dreamers to the table to register, and now all that information is in the hands of the government. The Department of Homeland Security knows the phone numbers and addresses of all of us.”
Since Trump’s Sept. 5 decision, CASA, a local immigrants rights organization, is focused on helping dreamers get legal assistance before the final deadline.
“We are holding several DACA renewal clinics,” said Fernanda Durand, CASA communications manager. The clinics “help the DACA recipients renew their DACA applications.”
CASA will be holding three Maryland clinics before Oct. 5, said Durand: Sept. 16 and 30 in Langley Park and Sept. 23 in Baltimore.
Aguiluz is afraid of what so much rumor and confusion means for himself and other undocumented immigrants.
“We are in a particularly unsafe position,” Aguiluz said. “They can just go through my door and get me. It’s very stressful.”
However, Aguiluz was smiling while talking to Capital News Service.
“I don’t want to say that this is a sad occasion,” he said. “From all the indications, we knew that this was going to happen. I’m here because of my community, the community that I built when we started fighting for the DREAM Act in 2012.”
“Community is what keeps us in this fight together.”