LYNN — Dreamers like 19-year-old Lissette Orellana, who came to the country more than a decade ago after fleeing gang violence in her native El Salvador, could be facing nightmares after President Donald Trump ordered an end to a five-year program that shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“Hearing the news … I just had a breakdown and I couldn’t believe it,” Orellana said after the announcement. “I still had a little hope that (Trump) was going to leave (the program) alone because it’s not bothering anyone. I’m still pretty shook up about it and very devastated.”
The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was established by executive authority from President Barack Obama, and has given nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation. Trump ordered an end to the program with a six-month delay on Tuesday, with plans to phase out DACA on March 5, 2018.
Orellana, a Lynn resident and North Shore Community College student, came to the United States alone and as an undocumented immigrant when she was just 8 years old. She said her mother came to the country first and paid a coyote, someone hired to smuggle people across borders, when she had enough money to bring her daughter into the country.
Orellana said she came to the United States by bus and walking, which took her about a week and a half to two weeks. She still remembers the trip vividly, which she describes as scary and very traumatizing — police were looking for her and others in her group with dogs to keep them from coming into the country.
The teen said she was fleeing gang violence — two of the biggest gangs, MS-13 and MS-18, are in El Salvador. Orellana said the police and the country’s president are doing nothing and El Salvador is essentially being taken over by gangs. She said her mom brought her to the country because the problem was getting out of hand.
“All I had to do to get here, all of the accomplishments I made here — this is my home,” Orellana said. “I basically grew up here. I was raised here. I don’t want to go back … It’s dangerous.”
The Trump administration reportedly said the delay is meant to give Congress time to find a legislative fix, an alternate way to protect young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, who are often known as dreamers. Trump tweeted “Congress, get ready to do your job — DACA.”
“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said in a widely reported written statement. “But we must also recognize that we are (a) nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”
Orellana now works at Lynn Museum in guest services and is in her second year at NSCC. She said she dreams of owning her own business one day, and plans to attend Salem State University next year. But those dreams could evaporate as she could potentially be facing deportation.
Orellana said she is open about her dreamer status — she applied to the DACA program when she was a sophomore in high school, and after a short period, got her work authorization and was able to get a social security number. She said the sad thing was finding out that she couldn’t get financial aid for college because she wasn’t a citizen — she thought she could go to college anywhere.
White House officials reportedly said some of the current immigrants will be able to renew their two-year period of legal status until Oct. 5, but if Congress fails to act, dreamers could face deportation to countries they may hardly know or remember and lose their work permits beginning in March.
The student said she doesn’t know what’s going to happen, and whether she can renew her DACA status, which would only be for another two years.
Patricia Gentile, president of North Shore Community College, said the college doesn’t keep immigration status in their database, and therefore doesn’t know how many DACA students are enrolled. She said generally the college’s DACA students are working because they don’t qualify for federal financial aid and are generally paying their way through college.
Gentile said North Shore is opposed to ending DACA, and to the ending of DACA’s legal status. She said her biggest worry is that the type of uncertain environment the decision creates casts a lot of doubt for their students, regarding whether they will be able to complete their education. She said it gives her a great deal of worry about who will drop out.
People do much better when they’re sure of what their future is, Gentile said, and now the dreamers are being left with uncertainty that they might be deported to a country they might have never seen.
Gentile said a more logical way to handle the situation would have been to address the Dream Act, the kind of legislation that needs to be in place, and then rescind the Obama-era executive action that is in place.
“I think it’s the fact that these are hardworking and productive people who are looking to improve their own situation and to add value to their community,” said Gentile. “They’ve been thrown into a very uncertain status and that many of them were brought here as babies and feeling just as American as you and I — it creates a great deal of stress and anxiety. I think that is the most inhumane part of this, that it could have been done in a different way.”
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) condemned the president’s decision to repeal DACA, calling it “cruel and unusual and clearly motivated by anti-immigrant political pandering.”
“DACA has allowed thousands of innocent children to come out of the shadows and get their rightful shot at the American Dream,” Moulton said in a statement. “Repealing DACA puts our friends, neighbors, colleagues, students and service members at risk of deportation.
“We should be working together, the president and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, on comprehensive immigration reform that includes improved border security and an earned path to citizenship for those who are already part of our communities.”
Orellana said she hasn’t been to El Salvador since she left as a child to come to the United States — with DACA, she isn’t allowed to leave the U.S., and the only way she sees her family there is through Skype or Facetime. If she leaves the country on her own, she won’t ever be able to enter the U.S. again, not even to visit.
The only way she can leave America, she said, is if a family member back in El Salvador is sick and she has a doctor’s letter, or she’s going to university in another country, which is still extremely risky.
The teen said she is feeling a wide range of emotions, including fear and anger. “I can’t believe they want to take something away from us,” Orellana said. “We’re not bothering anyone. We’re in DACA to work and study … We paid out of pocket for everything. Why would they take it away? I hear people say DACA people are stealing our jobs. No we’re not. It’s just crazy.”
“We just want to be somebody,” Orellana said. “We want to feel like we belong.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.