They came out of the shadows and desperately do not want to go back.
Mayra Salas Diaz, 26, works as a secretary in Wichita, where she’s lived since she was seven. Fernanda Alonso-Hernandez, 18, is pursuing a dream of becoming a pediatrician and earning a degree from Butler County Community College.
But signs that President Donald Trump may be about to end a federal program that allows undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them into the country as children to remain here has sparked fears that their ability to live openly without fear of deportation may end.
Diaz, Alonso-Hernandez and others in Kansas who call themselves DREAMers – in part because some ultimately dream of permanent legal residency – are raising the alarm over what the change would mean for their lives. More than 13,000 people in Kansas are eligible for the program, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
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By applying for the Obama-era program that shields young people from deportation, Diaz and others also gave all their information to Homeland Security. In exchange, the United States agreed to defer taking action to deport them and allow them to obtain work permits.
“They know where we are, where we live, what we do,” Diaz said. “We did this without any fear, we gave our information because we don’t have any criminal records. We’re not criminals. We’re just kids that when we were younger we were brought to a different country.”
Pressure has been building on Trump to wind down the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). A group of attorneys general, including Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, sent a letter to the Trump administration in June demanding the end of the program by Sept. 5.
Trump is expected to end the program, multiple sources have told McClatchy. But, these sources say, he is likely to allow immigrants in the program to remain until their work permits run out. The White House said Friday a decision on the program will be announced Tuesday.
A federal appeals court ruled that former President Barack Obama exceeded presidential authority when he established the program a program similar to DACA that would have shielded undocumented parents of citizen children but was never implemented. A Supreme Court appeal split 4-4, leaving the appellate opinion as guiding law.
Opponents of DACA say the program rests of the same legal ground as the program for parents that was struck down and should also be invalidated.
The June letter from the Republican attorneys general promised a lawsuit if DACA is not ultimately ended.
DREAMers and their supporters rallied at the Kansas Capitol on Friday, where speakers took a harsh line with Schmidt for signing onto the letter.
“I want to tell our attorney general: ‘Shame on you,’” Guadalupe Magdaleno, director of Sunflower Community Action, told a group of about 30.
Schmidt needs to represent all Kansans, she said.
Schmidt argues DACA overstepped Congress and exceeded the president’s authority.
“President Obama did a great disservice to many sincere and caring people by making promises that no president has the legal authority to keep,” Schmidt said in a statement. “The problem with DACA is that it is unlawful; under our Constitution, only Congress, not the President, has the power to change immigration law.
“Those who understandably feel strongly that the law should accommodate children brought to the U.S. at a young age and raised here would be well-advised to focus on persuading Congress to act.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is even more blunt. “The bottom line,” he said Thursday in an interview, is that DACA violates both federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
“It needs to be ended quickly and there should be no additional grants of DACA status to any individuals and there should be no renewals,” Kobach said. “I would have preferred that DACA never would have occurred and that DACA would have been ended very early in the Trump presidency.”
Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City, said the Trump administration wants to “tear us apart.” DREAMers sing the same national anthem and have had family members fight for the same country as everyone else, he said.
“We have people wanting to see you all go back where you come from,” Ruiz told the rally crowd.
If DACA ends, Alonso-Hernandez expects she would have to give up pursuing her career. She would have to work, but knows it would be more difficult to find a job if her ability to have a work permit is taken away.
And if she was sent to Mexico, which she left at 2 years old, she doesn’t know where she would live or what she would do or how well she would communicate in Spanish after prioritizing English.
“There’s nothing for me there, because I’ve lived my whole life, built my foundation of being here in Wichita,” she said. “I’ve dreamt of going forward, not going back.”
Contributing: Dion Lefler of The Eagle and Bryan Lowry of The Kansas City Star