HOUSTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s executive orders have paralyzed Latino immigrants with fear as they wait to see what he will sign next, and immigration attorneys expect him to phase out a program that has shielded more than 750,000 people from deportation.
César Espinosa, a baby-faced 31-year-old who came to the United States with his family at age 6, is a model citizen. After graduating with honors in 2004 from one of Houston’s top public high schools, he was accepted by Harvard University and other Ivy League schools.
“But when I tried to go, there was really no hope for me,” Espinosa told Courthouse News, citing his undocumented status.
Though he couldn’t attend Harvard, Espinosa, whose family has a history of political activism and community organizing, found plenty to do in his hometown of Houston.
He became a day-labor organizer, obtained a degree in political science and Mexican-American studies from the University of Houston, and in 2007 he co-founded FIEL Houston Inc., a student-run nonprofit that educates immigrants about how to legalize their status, apply to college and get financial aid.
Espinosa’s constant fear of deportation was eased in 2012 when he qualified for Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a program former President Barack Obama started that year, under which undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children can be protected from deportation and get federal work permits for renewable two-year terms. People in the program are called “Dreamers.”
“For me it’s changed my life in the sense that I’ve been able to get a driver’s license because I drive a lot here in Texas and in Houston. So just the simple act of being able to have an identifying document really meant a big deal for me and my family,” Espinosa said in an interview.
But with a new president in office who campaigned on a promise to deport undocumented immigrants – and signed an executive order that blocked and turned back some refugees trying to enter the country at airports before federal courts enjoined the order – Espinosa and other Latino immigrants fear what he has in store for them.
“Not only am I fearful for myself, but FIEL services a large community here in Houston, we have a membership of over 7,000, and we hear it every single day when folks come into the office and they’re calling us and they’re very fearful of what could happen next,” Espinosa said.
Though Trump’s travel ban explicitly tried to block refugees from six Middle Eastern countries and Somalia, reports that permanent residents from the seven named countries and others have been detained by federal immigration authorities and questioned at airports have made Latino legal residents hesitant to travel abroad and motivated them to apply for U.S. citizenship, according to two Houston immigration attorneys.
“I’ve recommended people who are lawful permanent residents and have a criminal history or a pending criminal case, even if it’s minor, do not travel as a resident,” attorney Laura Patricia Fernandez said.
Fernandez said she’s told clients who have a clean criminal record and are permanent legal residents, like green card holders, that it’s okay for them to travel abroad.