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Uncertainty shapes immigrant life in the United States
Armando Chávez
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Government persecutes migrants despite the fact that many arrived as children and have no links nor speak the language of their native countries.

Immigrants in the United States without legal residency or who were admitted on a temporary basis feel that their lives have become much more complicated in 2017 because of the current Republican administration’s intention to expel thousands of Latin Americans even though they are successfully integrated into the local economy and have no criminal record.

While deportations reached record highs during the administration of former Democratic President Barack Obama (2009-2017), Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House in January, following an election campaign of contempt and insults towards immigrants, has fueled negative stereotypes, racial hatred, and efforts to expel Latin Americans.

In that sense, the steps of the administration are being made public in the midst of a frayed social scenario and bursts of tweets from the president, while some people criticize them for being populist gestures to please an electorate that rejects the advancement of minorities, defends a purely Anglo-Saxon hegemony, and blames immigrants for abusing social assistance programs, committing crimes, not paying taxes, and not integrating linguistically.

Rare is the day when the media do not report incidents revealing the distressing circumstances of migrants in an irregular situation: some have chosen to miss medical appointments for fear of being detained in clinics and hospitals; many avoid reporting hazards or risks in their communities; many have sought refuge in religious temples and some have committed suicide after being expelled to Mexico.

Trump’s pledges during the election campaign that his migration initiatives would focus on expelling criminals to improve internal security have long been left behind.

In November, the US government announced measures affecting some 5,300 Nicaraguans and 60,000 Haitians with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program created to offer extraordinary permits to citizens of countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters. Authorities have set a date for them to regularize their situation or leave the United States. Nicaraguans have until January 2019 and Haitians until July of that same year.

The Washington Post newspaper revealed in early November that Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, called on Elaine Duke, acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, to end the TPS for Hondurans, saying it “prevents our wider strategic goal.” The call by Kelly has been interpreted as an interference by the White House in decisions that would have to be based solely on the law.

On a tightrope
Some 57,000 Hondurans and 200,000 Salvadorans received TPS protection after Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in 1998. Many fear that this benefit will be eliminated in the coming months. Next year, the Department of Homeland Security is to be headed by Kirstjen Nielsen, a person close to Trump and recently nominated for that position.

The decision to lift the protection of Haitians has been called into question because Haiti was hit by two major hurricanes last September. Haitians and Central Americans have been demonstrating in the vicinity of the White House.

“We have contributed our efforts to this country, we have built families here, we have children who only speak English, and now we have to return to a country we haven’t visited in years,” a Nicaraguan citizen told Latinamerica Press.

One of the most powerfully heard immigration claims has to do with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, created in 2012 by the Obama administration to allow 800,000 irregular migrant adults to study, work and serve in the US Army. Known as “dreamers,” these people arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday and some of them speak only English and lack ties with their home countries. Trump brought DACA to an end and left it to Congress to find a solution.

According to the press, some 22,000 of these dreamers have not been able to renew their migratory status and risk losing their jobs. This situation was alerted to the Trump administration by national security and US diplomacy personalities, who claim that dreamers are a useful workforce and deporting them would cost about US$7.5 billion.

DACA grantees have flocked to the US Congress in Washington and to state legislators’ offices in their respective states to seek support. In addition, they have raised concerns that their personal and location information, which they provided in good faith to avail themselves of DACA, may be used by authorities to conduct arrests.

The dreamers have become an obligatory reference on the politics of the Republican administration because it is a social group that has received educational training in the United States and has proven their capacity to make contributions in various sectors. Many of them claim that they have met the program’s conditions and are now taking university courses. However, the deadline for finding a solution is getting shorter; DACA is set to expire on Mar. 5, 2018.

Existence in suspense
Some immigrants have chosen to retreat even further into neighborhoods where they pass unnoticed and bypass roads where they may encounter police patrol cars. Likewise, they limit their presence on social networks and avoid driving in cities, letting the driving go to family members who are documented and are in a position to answer for a possible traffic infraction.

“Going out on the street is always an uncertainty; I never know if I’m going to be able to return home,” Juan, of Mexican origin, who held a tourist visa as long as he was able to renew it, and who finally stayed without documents to legally reside in the country, told Latinamerica Press. He admits that he evades any public comment about his status, for fear of being blackmailed or denounced. He claims that his work is always transitory and has been exploited because of his fragile immigration status.

In this context, the Mexican consulates have increased resources to advise their fellow nationals. Latin media outlets, such as Telemundo and Univisión, usually include in their news alerts about adverse immigration provisions for immigrants. In addition, lawyers and experts explain on prime time television programs how to proceed in the event of a sudden visit by immigration authorities to their homes.

Some families already have legal powers of attorney in place to protect property, such as housing, and for minors to be cared for by relatives if parents without legal residence status experience the misfortune.

“My daily fear is that I won’t be able to pick up my children at school in case I’m arrested,” confesses Juan. “I’ve lived through everything in this country for 20 years, but I’ve never felt so rejected before. I’m already from this country and I have nowhere to go.”

Despite tensions, irregular migrants remain in public view; as always, they do difficult, undervalued and underpaid work, but are now exposed to increased xenophobia and unpredictable risks. Often, they are even afraid to speak Spanish so that they won’t be detected because of their mother tongue. —Latinamerica Press.


Protest against Donald Trump’s administration’s decision to cancel DACA program targeting immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. /Crónica Viva
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