Jocelyn Hernandez dressed in all black on Wednesday morning as she faced an uncertain future.
An Obama administration program for young immigrants brought to the country as children allowed Hernandez, a North Hennepin Community College sociology student, to work, drive and plan for a career as a teacher. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to end the deportation reprieve program — part of a tougher stance on illegal immigration that he made a centerpiece of his campaign.
After his victory, Minnesota Latinos and other immigrants worry about pledges to step up deportations, build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and crack down on employers who hire unauthorized workers. The election’s outcome also dimmed hope for a state proposal to grant driver’s licenses to residents without legal status — and for national immigration reform that would open a path to citizenship.
Meanwhile, Trump’s election heartened Minnesotans who want to see tougher immigration enforcement.
Key questions remain about what a Trump administration can do and will do about immigration, said Virgil Wiebe, an immigration law expert at the University of St. Thomas.
“At this point, there’s a bit of wait-and-see,” he said. “But I think we should take Trump at his word and prepare for a more aggressive stance.”
More than 282,000 Latinos live in Minnesota, or about 5 percent of the state’s population. An estimated 58,000 of them are among more than 90,000 immigrants living without legal status in the state, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Hernandez, 19, was 10 months old when her parents crossed the southern U.S. border and made their way to Minnesota. She shared her immigration status with few friends until she qualified for Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Almost 6,000 immigrants in Minnesota have benefited from the program, including some from Africa and Asia.
Thanks to DACA, Hernandez got a driver’s license. She landed a campus job and an internship at the Metropolitan Council. A younger sister was born in the United States, and Hernandez’s parents would likely have qualified for another Obama deportation reprieve program, for parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. Blocked by a court challenge, that program is also slated to disappear under Trump.
“This is just pushing us back into the shadows,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to be in constant fear.”
Across the metro and beyond, immigrants gathered to process the news and weigh anxious questions. Hernandez helped organize a campus rally Wednesday that drew more than a hundred students, including one who held a sign reading, “You can’t deport us all.”
“There’s a lot of despair,” said Emilia Avalos, head of the nonprofit Navigate, which advocates for DACA recipients and other immigrants. “There’s a lot of anxiety for sure. But people are ready to take action.”
On Wednesday, supporters flocked to Navigate’s office on the Minneapolis Community and Technical College campus, where some broke down in tears after a sleepless night and others questioned if an end to DACA would affect those already in the program.
At Church of the Assumption in Richfield, which draws 1,200 for its Sunday Spanish-language services, the Rev. Michael Kueber tried to reassure members. He spoke with children worried their family would need to move back to Mexico.
Sebastian Rivera with the local advocacy group Asamblea de Derechos Civiles says many members are worried about Trump’s pledge to increase deportations. He has spoken with some who wonder if they should start selling off belongings and saving money, in case it becomes harder to find and keep jobs under a Trump administration. Advocates such as Rivera also worry that Trump’s harsh rhetoric — he launched his campaign with a speech suggesting Mexico sends rapists across the border — will heighten prejudice and discrimination.
A tougher stance
Some in Minnesota, which narrowly backed Hillary Clinton, said Trump’s positions on immigration enforcement resonated with them.
The Obama administration, which broke deportation records in earlier years, more recently sharpened a focus on removing immigrants with criminal convictions. Dan McGrath of the Twin Cities advocacy group Minnesota Majority said he was troubled by narrower enforcement of laws and by Obama’s deportation reprieve programs.
“You have people in power picking and choosing against whom to enforce the law, and that’s tyranny,” said McGrath, who supports reforms that would make it easier to immigrate legally. “If you break the law, you should face the consequences.”
Ruthie Hendrycks lives in New Ulm, where Trump support ran deep, and hosts a weekly radio program criticizing illegal immigration. She says she is confident Trump will improve border security and require employers to join a federal system for verifying workers’ immigration status.
“To not enforce our immigration law is a slap in the face of every legal resident who played by the rules,” Hendrycks said.
Rick Aguilar, vice chairman of the Hispanic Republican Assembly of Minnesota, was among almost 30 percent of Latinos who backed Trump based on national exit polls. He said education reform, job security and health care are more important than the issue of immigration.
He said he feels for young adults like Hernandez, who use DACA to attend college and find employment.
“I don’t think there is any way we should be getting rid of these kids,” Aguilar said. “If I ever had anything to say with the Trump campaign, let’s not do away with that program.”
Uncertainty remains about how Trump’s campaign promises on immigration will play out come January. In an interview on “60 Minutes” Sunday, Trump backed away from support for deporting as many as 11 million people, suggesting he would focus on removing 2 million or 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
Advocates are already springing to action. Groups such as Asamblea are hosting community forums to regroup and discuss next steps. They are planning a series of events to remind immigrants of their rights, including what to do if immigration agents visit their homes or workplaces, and warn them against scammers peddling easy fixes.
“I don’t have time to cry,” Rivera said. “The one thing everyone kept repeating is, ‘We need to act now.’ ”
Mila Koumpilova • 612-673-4781
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753