The day President Donald Trump announced he would end DACA was a busy day for Angela Fernandez, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. She had about 300 New Yorkers to advise — and reassure.
Fernandez is a lawyer and immigration advocate who has helped some of the estimated 42,000 New Yorkers here without legal status who were protected by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA allowed those individuals to come out of the shadows and work or go to school. Fernandez’s staff sent an email to all the immigrants they’d worked with, and then began the painful process: calling each one.
They checked expiration dates on DACA documents. They advised those with a forthcoming renewal to follow through. They cautioned others beginning the process to wait and see. And they began to explain the risks, from hucksters sure to exploit immigrant fears to immigration enforcement agents who could deport them in the spring.
In short, Fernandez and her team began damage control as the clock began to tick.
Taking to the streets
It was a day of protest in NYC, too, as elected officials and immigration leaders grappled with the news that Trump would allow DACA to expire in six months.
Mayor Bill de Blasio offered legal funding; City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced similar resources as well. Public Advocate Tish James promised at a news conference to fight “in the streets and the courts,” and minutes later Assemb. Marcos Crespo urged New Yorkers to band together to “stop this madman” Trump. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had said Monday that New York would sue the federal government if it tried to take DACA away. But details about lawsuits and legal strategies weren’t immediately available, with a spokeswoman from Schneiderman’s office saying a court filing would be coming soon. And from all corners, there were pleas to Congress to pass an immigration reform measure that would at least protect those benefitting from DACA.
While advocates and officials scramble to see what can be done, the crowds that sprouted in cities across the country called for answers. Protesters assembled in Foley Square in the evening, and ebbed and flowed for much of the day outside Trump Tower.
Some were professors like Lori Flores, 34, who teaches history at Stony Brook University. She planned to contact her representatives and also reassure her students of the university’s protections offered to them.
Kay Samuels, 24, who said she just returned to the Bronx from Navy service in California, wanted to register her dismay at Trump’s announcement. She said she’d been through boot camp with immigrants here without legal status who got citizenship through their service. They and DACA beneficiaries “are not harming anyone,” she said.
What comes next?
Or there were those like a young woman across from Trump Tower who declined to give her name, who said she was a recipient of DACA and wasn’t sure what to do now. She held a sign in front of her face that said “You cannot uneducate a person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.”
These are the people who advocates like Fernandez are looking to help. Fernandez said Tuesday that it would take all week to reach the coalition’s recipients, that she was training others to start making the calls, too. She and other immigration experts acknowledged that there was little that could definitively be done to protect the Dreamers come spring, if Congress remains deadlocked and Trump doesn’t change his mind. “It all depends on how we organize,” she said. “It’s in our hands” — up to voters and citizens to force the powers that be to go down a different route.
Because the funny thing about this particular issue, says Fernandez, is that “many many people who are not empathetic around immigration are empathetic around these youngsters.”
In between meetings and phone calls Tuesday, she continued: “Because the question then becomes who really is an American.”