During his campaign, Donald Trump said he would eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program, also known as DACA, was put in place in 2012 by the Obama administration. It allows young adults who came to the United States without documentation as children to receive a two-year renewable protection from deportation, a work permit, and a Social Security number.
But since the election, President Trump has suggested he will not roll back the program in its entirety. Almost 27,000 people in North Carolina are DACA recipients. Many aree anxiously waiting to see what happens to DACA under a new administration.
Evelyn Smallwood is a Durham-based attorney who has represented dozens of DACA recipients with a range of backgrounds.
"I have had clients from China who have gotten deferred action. I’ve had many clients from South American, North American, Central America and even some from Europe as well,” Smallwood said. "This is a wonderful population of people to work with and represent. Just by virtue of the requirements alone, you are talking about people who are wonderful contributing members of society."
Smallwood added that many employers in North Carolina rely on DACA recipients to perform various roles for businesses and aid the North Carolina economy. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, North Carolina would lose $1.1 billion in annual GDP if DACA was eliminated.
"We, as citizens of North Carolina, are also relying on the services or the benefits they provide as lawful individuals in our state,” she said.
Yazmin Garcia Rico received DACA in 2012. She grew up in Alamance county in North Carolina with a heightened sense of anxiety toward law enforcement as she witnessed some of her friends be deported.
Garcia Rico said she struggled growing up without identification before DACA. She said she realized that life would be difficult when she completed a driver’s education program in high school but was unable to receive a license.
However, with the help of scholarships, she was eventually able to attend Guilford College, a private university in Greensboro, for her undergraduate degree.
After Garcia Rico graduated in 2011, she was still unable to work legally.
“Once I graduated, I felt like all my sacrificed had been worth it having a diploma on my hands. But after walking across stage, I felt like that was it,” she said. "I didn’t have access to a work permit. I couldn’t join the workforce and that was really hard for me. I was out of school for a year and a half before DACA came out."
Garcia Rico said the benefits and mobility that came with DACA changed her life. After receiving DACA, she started working for Student Action with Famworkers. Her path in social justice has led her to the UNC School of Social Work where she is currently a graduate student.
"I was also able to go through a travel permit and go back to Mexico and see my dad who I hadn’t seen in 12 years.”
Yet, Garcia Rico said it has been difficult to remain optimistic recently because she feels her status as a DACA recipient is unknown.
“In my mind, I will be able to stay and I will be able to use my degree if I’m able to graduate,” she said. "The future for us is really uncertain. If I lose my work permit, I’m not going to be able to work as a research assistant. I’m not going to help cover my tuition and I am at risk for deportation.”
Garcia Rico added that President Trump's executive order on immigration last week is a frightening example for anybody who is dealing with fears of deportation.
"I am afraid not just for myself, but for the people I know,” she said. “I am fearful for my friends and family, for everybody who is in this country and has done their best and is still seen as foreign and not good enough."
Garcia Rico said she plans to remain in North Carolina after she completes her degree to continue helping underserved communities.