'I was raised with American morals and I know to do the right thing'
Doris Baccala sounds stunned when she talks about what the Trump administration’s immigration policy has done to her family in the past few months.
“It’s just overwhelming…. I still can’t believe it,” said the 20-year-old Auburn resident, a student at Sierra College. “We’re not sure what will happen to us.”
Baccala is a so-called Dreamer, one of 200,000 Californians who were brought into the United States illegally as children by their parents, but who were granted legal status to work and go to school during the Obama administration through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly called DACA.
DACA, ended by the Trump administration, is now the subject of an intense, ever-shifting political debate as Congress attempts to pass legislation that would grant young people like Baccala a reprieve before March. After that, up to 1,000 Dreamers would begin losing legal status every day.
So far, those efforts have been unsuccessful, but a deadline of Jan. 19 remains for crafting a deal.
For Baccala, every day of watching the legal and political maneuvering over her future is a fresh spin of her emotional wheel.
“Recently, I’ve been not as active as I used to be because I’ve been going through depression with all of this,” she said.
Monday, the Trump administration upped the stakes for Baccala by taking aim at her parents, immigrants from El Salvador who held Temporary Protected Status, allowing them to live and work in legally in the United States. The status did not allow them to pursue citizenship.
Trump canceled that program for Salvadorans, leaving her parents with few options other than living illegally in the shadows or leaving a country where they have lived for 21 years.
When the news came that her parents were now also facing deportation, Baccala was on her way to work. Her mom called and told her to come home at lunch for a family meeting, to “plan for the worst.”
Her mother is a certified nursing assistant at a senior living facility. Her father works on a loading dock. She works in the financial aid office at her college. Her three younger siblings – U.S. citizens – are still in school, one in elementary, one in middle and one in high school.
What, the family wondered, would they do if they were forced to leave? Who would care for her sisters and brother if they stayed behind? How would they survive if they lost their jobs?
“It was so surreal having that meeting with our family,” she said. “It was actually part of our meeting, that dad might have to leave his job. He might have to go to work in construction or something that doesn’t need a social (security number). And mom as well. She loves her job helping the elderly and has been doing it for more than 13 years. ... We have a home here in California and if we do get deported, will we have to sell it? Will we have time to sell it? Will we have to abandon it?
“We knew that Temporary Protected Status and DACA was just a Band Aid. It was not a concrete solution and it had to end at sometime,” she said. “We just hoped there was something to follow it that was more stable.”
Baccala and her family are not the only Californians asking themselves hard questions and facing harder answers. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants across the state and the country have seen their lives upended this year as the Trump administration continues to escalate crackdowns on undocumented people and legal immigrants alike, leaving fear, anxiety and uncertainty as the new if unwelcome normal.
Along with the Dreamers, there are 110,000 TPS holders in California from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, according to the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C. based public policy institute.
Between 2.35 and 2.6 million Californians were estimated to be undocumented in 2014, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, though that number has been declining in recent years.
More than a quarter of all California residents are immigrants, according to a recent report by the American Immigration Council, and one in five children in California is a U.S. citizen living with at least one undocumented family member.
About 49,000 Sacramento residents are not U.S. citizens, including about 4,100 children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. How many are here illegally is unknown. The Census Bureau does not ask about legal status.
During the past few months, federal immigration authorities have targeted immigrant groups by both ethnicity and status. Teens accused of gang contacts, Cambodians with criminal records, Dreamers like Baccala, refugees like her parents, granted protected status after wars, earthquakes and natural disasters – all have been the focus of immigration changes that have left them detained, deported, or under those threats, some after decades of legal residency in the United States.
“I don’t know if it’s anger,” said Oscar Rios, a five-term mayor of Watsonville who was born in El Salvador and is active with immigration issues, of how California’s immigrants are feeling.
“It’s more dissatisfied, disillusioned,” Rios said. “It’s more that you have been here for all this time hoping that the door will be opened for you. ... I think it’s the difference between anger and stress. Stress lingers and lingers and lingers and makes your life miserable.”
Like Baccala, who first spoke out about her status last year at a town hall in Roseville with GOP Rep. Tom McClintock, some immigrants are finding comfort in activism.
Viridiana Chabolla Mendoza, a Dreamer attending law school at University of California, Irvine, joined four other Dreamers recently in a lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop its cancellation of DACA.
Last week, they won a nationwide injunction that forces the government to continue renewing existing DACA applications for the time being, although the government did not immediately comply with that order and will likely appeal the court ruling.
“This new administration is definitely increasing the fear especially with the lack of enforcement priorities. Everybody seems to be a priority,” said Mendoza.
She said she was “pretty scared” to take part in the suit, and worried it would have repercussions for her family.
But “I knew from the beginning the answer would be yes,” she said.
Mendoza came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was two years old and grew up in east Los Angeles. She said she remembers constant fear from being undocumented, a common status in her neighborhood, but still graduated at the top of her high school class and went to Pomona College in Claremont.
“When I was little, that was always a motivating factor, that you have this extra barrier in your life and you have to overcome it,” she said of being undocumented.
When DACA was announced, she said, she immediately “starting making a list of jobs that I wanted to apply to,” if she became legal to work. She had watched older friends graduate from college only to be pushed into low-wage work because of their status, and she feared the same future for herself.
“I can’t express the number of ways DACA improved my life,” she said. Before earning her degree, she lined up a job at a civil rights non-profit law group.
When DACA was canceled, it was “crushing,” she said.
Wins like the injunction, she said, bring feelings of power and optimism in a situation that has recently made her feel hopeless.
“The constitution is the reason I fell in love with this county,” said Dulce Garcia, a Dreamer from San Diego who was also involved in the lawsuit. “It gives me hope that no matter who is in power at the moment, the people, we have power.”
Garcia said she also believes California is on her side.
The most visible action California has taken to help its immigrants is declaring itself a “sanctuary state” where law enforcement and certain government officials are now required to limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities – a law that went into effect Jan. 1.
While the sanctuary law made national headlines, California’s courts have so far made the most tangible difference for immigrants. Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed multiple immigration-related lawsuits against the federal government, including a DACA lawsuit that was joined to Mendoza and Garcia’s.
“They are us,” said Becerra in a press conference last week about the injunction in the DACA case. “The state is going to do everything we can, as we have proven through this litigation.”
Along with the DACA lawsuit, California sued in September to stop the construction of a border wall. The state has also allotted millions to helping Trump targets get legal help.
“It’s personal,” said Wendy Carrillo, the only Salvadoran currently serving in the state Legislature. “This is the continued separation of families that is incredibly inhumane. The Trump administration is continuing to pass these policies that impact U.S.-born children.”
Last year's state budget included $35 million in expanded funds for legal services for immigrants – adding to an existing $30 million fund already in place to help fund naturalization services, money that specifically can be used to help Dreamers. This year’s proposed budget has $45 million allocated for immigration assistance, and an additional $3 million to help unaccompanied undocumented minors.
Cities have also put money aside for immigrants.
In Los Angeles, city and county officials set aside a combined $5 million to help secure legal aid for immigrants, including those believed wrongly convicted of a violent felony. San Francisco Supervisors gave money to the city’s public defender’s office to hire more attorneys to fight deportation cases.
In Sacramento, the City Council set aside $300,000 to fund non-profits engaged in educating immigrants about their rights and providing legal services.
“What the president is doing is inhumane, one, and second, contrary to our economic benefit,” said Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra, who was undocumented when he was younger.
Tomas Evangelista, a friend of Baccala and a Dreamer himself, said he also sees support from everyday Californians, especially those in Auburn, where he lives.
“I grew up in Auburn since I was six,” he said. “I walked everywhere, was friends with a lot of families that have conservative views and that didn’t matter because they saw me as American. Auburn is representative of the American people because it’s more conservative but the people there are caring and loving. … We are all the same. We all want security for our family.”
Evangelista is one of a contingent of DACA recipients, including four others from Northern California, who went to Washington, D.C., last week to push for a path to citizenship for Dreamers. He has met with legislators on both sides of the aisle, including McClintock, who is his representative.
Evangelista said he decided to speak up about his immigration status after a town hall meeting last year in Roseville in which McClintock told Baccala she should return to El Salvador.
Evangelista came to the United States from Mexico when he was 2 years old, and moved to Auburn to live with his grandparents after his mother became ill and subsequently died from cancer.
Now 27, he obtained DACA status when he was a junior at California State University, Stanislaus and subsequently used his work permit to get a job at a non-profit working with homeless people and those with mental illness.
This week, he and Baccala are pushing for their neighbors to get involved. They are holding phone banks for people to call McClintock and other legislators to push for a deal.
“This is our make it or break it moment,” he said.
Some worry that California’s strong stance against Trump will have repercussions.
After the sanctuary state ordinance was passed, acting director of of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan said he believed politicians backing sanctuary laws should be arrested, and warned that enforcement in California was going to increase.
“California better hold on tight,” said Homan during a televised interview. “They are about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation officers.”
Last week, immigration agents made early morning raids on nearly 100 7-Eleven stores nationwide, including ones in Napa, Petaluma, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, Suisun City and North Sebastopol. Immigration agents also made significantly more arrests of those without criminal records last year than in previous recent years.
“I do believe that California is a target and will continue to be a target in the next few years because we are resisting,” said Garcia, the San Diego Dreamer.
Baccela is holding out hope that Congress will pass some sort of relief that will help her family in the next few days, though that hope took another blow Thursday as President Trump rejected a possible bipartisan deal that reportedly included a fix for Temporary Protected Status recipients like her parents.
It was that inclusion that Trump reportedly singled out as problematic. Media reports quoting people who attended the meeting said he questioned why the United States was accepting immigrants from “shithole” countries such as Haiti, one of the TPS groups, instead of from countries like Norway.
Trump took to Twitter early Friday to deny that he used profanity, but stuck to his position against the deal.
“The so-called bipartisan DACA deal presented yesterday to myself and a group of Republican Senators and Congressmen was a big step backwards. Wall was not properly funded, Chain & Lottery were made worse and USA would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime.....,” he wrote.
With uncertainty the only constant, Baccala said she’s working as many extra hours as she can to save money in case things get worse. She also got married this fall to a U.S. citizen and is applying for a green card for legal residency. But she said the wait time is about two years, well past the expiration of her legal status.
Friday night, she and Evangelista planned to hold a banner above Highway 80 in Auburn to raise awareness of DACA for those traveling toward Tahoe.
“I try not to let it get to me, but yeah, it’s definitely wearing down all of us,” said Evangelista. “This is a time I think when we need to stand strong … we’ve got to work through it and can’t let the stress and the fear get to us.”