How The Last Four Years Have Shaped Immigration In North Carolina
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Kiara Alvarenga’s parents brought her to the U.S. from Honduras when she was a little girl because they were looking for a better future for their family. Today, Alvarenga is 27 years old and one of North Carolina’s 24,000 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
DACA is one of the immigration policies that President Donald Trump has tried to alter through executive order in the past four years. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute finds the Trump administration has implemented more than 400 executive orders on immigration policies during the president’s four years in office, including attempts to eliminate DACA. Three other executive orders, in particular, had a strong impact on immigration policy in North Carolina.
Ahead of the November election, Alvarenga volunteered with the political nonprofit Mijente. Because of her status, she can’t vote. But she canvassed in the Charlotte area to get eligible voters to the polls and elect officials that would fight to keep DACA in place.
“I'm someone who has been here for 20 years now, someone who only knows America as home,” she said. “Being sent away somewhere that I don't know, it's just not right. It's against human rights.”
When DACA was implemented by the Obama administration in 2012, one of the program’s creators was Alejandro Mayorkas. President-elect Joe Biden announced Mayorkas as his secretary of Homeland Security pick on Nov. 23. If approved, he will be the first Latino and immigrant to lead the department, which is in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
A list from ICE shows that after Florida and Texas, North Carolina ranks third among states with the most 287(g) agreements with ICE. That program allows local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone in their custody and hold them for ICE for up to 48 hours.
While counties such as Mecklenburg, Guilford, and Wake have backed out of the program, more have either renewed or signed new agreements since President Trump was elected. Currently, 14 sheriffs' offices and the Albemarle District Jail are part of some form of 287(g) agreement with ICE in North Carolina.
Eddie Caldwell is executive vice president and general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association.
“Some sheriffs think that it's a good program for their county, and they have implemented it. Others have chosen not to implement it. But [the association hasn’t] done any analysis or comparison between counties,” Caldwell said.
UNC School of Law professor Deborah Weissman finds that 287(g) agreements have affected the immigrant community, making those without criminal backgrounds fearful of everyday activities.
“A lot of people, as they traveled through the state as they have to for work, they don't know which county has the 287(g) program, which doesn't. [It’s a] gripping fear,” Weissman said.
North Carolina is also one of 10 states with more than 10,000 people who have Temporary Protected Status. The program allows people from certain countries to stay in the U.S. and to work legally. Recent Immigration Services data show nearly 15,000 North Carolinians had Temporary Protected Status by the end of last year.
In 2018, Trump announced he’d be ending the program. It was later extended for those from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Sudan, and Nepal until the first week of 2021.
Immigration attorney Jamilah Espinosa has a large number of North Carolina clients who have Temporary Protected Status.
“Many are business owners, homeowners. They have relied on being able to live here so long that they've established everything they have here in the U.S.,” Espinosa said. “It's been a very stressful time in them deciding what they should do. What are their next steps? Should they try to sell their homes? What do they do with businesses?”
Right before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Trump administration released the public charge rule. It is a test used by immigration officials to decide whether an immigrant or an applicant for a green card or certain types of visa may become dependent on public benefits in the future. If they are, their request to stay in the county will be denied and they can be deported.
Weissman says the rule was implemented at the worst possible time for the immigrant community.
“[The public charge rule] really thwarts people's ability to properly take care of their children and their families, particularly in this time of COVID where, you know, individuals have lost their job,” she explained.
Weissman says immigrants and their advocates are hopeful that in the next four years President-elect Biden's administration will reverse some of Trump’s policies and increase opportunities for a legal path toward citizenship.