This week President Trump issued several executive orders impacting immigration policy. For undocumented immigrants or people in the process of immigrating to the U.S., these orders and other promises from Trump have worried them about there status in the country.
The executive orders Wednesday provided support for building a border wall with Mexico, increasing the government’s power to deport, cutting off federal funding for places that don’t comply with immigration laws, among other things.
Both since the election and then after Trump was inaugurated, several Lubbock immigration law practices have noticed a spike in business.
“Actually people are very scared since the election,” said Paola Ledesma, an immigration attorney. “I started receiving calls, people are worried about their situation, their family.”
Most of Ledesma’s clients have been asking her if they will be able to stay in the country. She explained that most of them are actually eligible for protections they didn’t know about.
“I’ve got an increase in clients, you’d be surprised but actually a lot of them did qualify for something,” she said.
Ledesma added that she is waiting to see how the executive actions Trump has already made will directly impact her clients.
“Most of them have been living here in the United States for over ten years, they don’t have any criminal records, they have kids that were born here in the U.S.,” she explained.
To her clients with criminal records, she is honest with in telling them they have reason to be worried about their status with the new executive orders.
“People who are already going through an immigration process are usually ok,” explained David Strange, an immigration attorney with Whittenburg Law Firm. Strange said he has also seen an increase in clients both since the election and since Donald Trump was inaugurated.
“Whether people are worse off or better off it’s hard to say,” he said.
Because of President Trump’s orders and promises to enforce federal immigration law, Strange said that any undocumented immigrants with a criminal record may face greater chances of being detained or deported.
Strange explained that the Obama administration did push forward the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but that comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system has not happened.
He explained that under Trump and a new legislature, changes could occur.
“He wants to bring back local and state immigration laws, [municipalities] are required by federal law to cooperate,” Strange said.
One of Trump’s campaign promises was to remove DACA, which allows people who have come to the United States as children to have deferred action on their immigration status.
Saba Nafees, 24, is one of the over 700,000 people protected by DACA and one of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Nafees is pursuing her Ph.D. at Texas Tech where she studies Mathematics and Biology and works as a TA. She has a staggering lists of accomplishments during her time at Texas Tech, including representing Texas Tech in the organization One Young World, helping to lead an entrepreneurship program in Tibet, serving as Graduate Vice President of Texas Tech student government, and serving as an ambassador for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders program.
She was drawn to the Texas Tech honors college and in 2011 she was able to begin her education there.
“I just immediately fell in love with the choice I made and I’m sure there are other universities that would have been supportive, but Texas Tech really welcomed me and understood my situation. They told me, ‘just come on as long as you can be a good hardworking Red Raider, we’ll support you,’ and that’s what they’ve done,” Nafees said.
He grandparents moved to the U.S. from Pakistan in the early 1990’s with one of their daughters who had sponsored them. They became citizens and went on to operate their own business. Her grandparents sponsored Nafees, her mother, her father and her two sisters. Nafees said her family left because Pakistan was unstable at the time and she and her siblings were not able to receive a good education there.
In 2004 Nafees and her immediate family were able to move to the U.S. But her grandfather passed away, and soon after Nafees moved to the U.S., her grandmother passed away as well.
“So that really put us in a big limbo and we really didn’t have any other way,” she said. ” We had to either return back or to stay here undocumented, and that’s what ended up happening because it wasn’t really safe to go back anyway and we had started school here.”
Nafees and her family moved to Fort Worth. An encounter with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Texas has impacted her family’s immigration status.
“Even though I got married last year, I’m no where near close to getting my green card, it may be years,” Nafees explained. “Because back in 2012 ICE came to know [my family was] undocumented and that was a really big disaster for my family. This was a few months before DACA came out which meant that I was going to be deported and I was going to be in deportation proceedings.”
She said that her parents are going through deportation proceedings currently.
“It’s really tough to envision that at any time my parents could be told ‘hey leave’,” she said. “And I would be in the same boat if it were not for DACA, when DACA came out in June of 2012, it was big news for my family and I because we had a way to stay back and not be deported.”
Nafees was able to obtain DACA by early 2013. This allowed her to obtain a drivers license and work in the U.S.
If DACA was taken away, Nafees said her life as she knows it would change. She would not be able to work in the U.S.
Her older sisters have been faithfully married for a while which has allowed them to get further along in obtaining more permanent status.
“And for myself this is still an issue because I am not going to be able to have any sort of benefit from my recent marriage which was last year and I’m not going to be able to obtain my green card for couple of years–if that –because I am a DACA student I have an immigration court case going on, it’s going to be a very long time before I get my green card,” she said.
Nafees said that like many young, undocumented immigrants, she identifies as an American.
“We’ve grown up here but we’re not afforded any of the benefits, we pay taxes but we don’t get any federal grant money or anything from the federal government,” she said.
While she is nervous that DACA may be removed, she is also optimistic that the next few years may produce comprehensive immigration reform with a more permanent alternative to DACA.
“I’m really disappointed to hear a lot of the rhetoric right now, but there might be some hope,” she said. “I know that the administration has said things like, ‘we’re going to work with Congress work to solve this issue of DACA,'” Nafees said.
She hopes that as leaders and law makers continue to shape U.S. immigration policy, that they meet with undocumented students like herself.
“They should come talk to people like us and actually look at us in the face and, ‘say oh wow here is an American story, here is an undocumented story, there’s a face behind the actions we might propose,'” Nafees said.