Brian Davies/The Register-Guard
Natalia Ponce May was working a shift at the Home Depot in Warrenton when she received a disturbing text from a friend Tuesday morning.
President Donald Trump had just announced his intention to dismantle a federal program that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to apply for two-year, renewable legal status and employment.
A single mother of two young daughters who earned her GED earlier this year and plans to begin classes at Clatsop Community College later this month, Ponce May began to cry.
“I’m still, like, in shock with it,” she said. “I’m just very scared. I think everyone is.”
Ponce May is one of several hundred thousand people living in the U.S. who have applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program former President Barack Obama established through a 2012 executive order.
“I was hopeful this was one of the programs that would be spared,” said Jorge Gutierrez, the executive director of the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council. “I was a little bit shocked.”
Ponce May, 28, who emigrated from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at age 15, applied for the program five years ago. Her application is still pending, and Tuesday’s announcement has pushed her further into limbo. Frightened, she called her lawyer as soon as she took her first break for the day.
Her lawyer went over more of the specifics about what the Trump administration is planning. If Congress does not pass legislation by March 5, the government will stop renewing permits for those covered by the program. Permits set to expire before that date may still be renewed, but applications must be submitted by Oct 5. Applications already submitted will still be processed, and the program will end gradually.
Ponce May is working toward a career as a medical assistant helping translate for non-English patients. She is concerned about her ability to work, go to college and take care of her kids, she said.
Since the government now possesses some of her personal information, including her home address, she is worried she may be targeted for deportation.
“We depend on DACA. That’s the only way we can work and go to school,” she said. “If they catch me and they do something to me, what will happen to my daughters?”
She remembers her family members and can partially visualize the ranch where she grew up in Mexico. Otherwise, she is much more familiar with her new home in Astoria.
“I don’t know anything about Mexico,” she said. “I don’t know what it looks like, nothing.”
‘They have broken that trust’
Eileen Purcell, a board member of the hispanic council and coordinator of Clatsop Community College’s literacy program, has helped students like Ponce May with DACA applications. The council helps those who wish to fill out a DACA application but cannot afford a lawyer.
She received numerous calls Tuesday from concerned students.
“We have invested so much money in these kids. It’s ridiculous. It’s stupid,” Purcell said. “I never thought it would come to this.”
Purcell lamented the fact that DACA applicants have now, like Ponce May, turned over their private information to the government, which may in turn seek to deport them. “We trusted them to treat them right, and they have broken that trust today.”
Many of the students with DACA benefits are the only members of their families who can work or even have a driver’s license.
“This is a definite blow for students and their families,” she said.
Tuesday marked the first day of school for most North Coast children. Astoria High School Counselor Andrew Fick, though he does not record who participates in the DACA program, said the repeal would affect some students.
“We talk with students about a variety of issues that relate to family life,” he said. “School counselors are available for anyone who feels like they need support. That’s our job.”
‘America is better than this’
Demonstrations against the repeal broke out in several cities across the country, including Portland. Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement that Congress should push back against the Trump administration’s decision, adding dreamers contribute over $6 million annually to the state.
“I am deeply troubled by federal orders that seek to tear apart otherwise law-abiding families and undermine Oregon’s economy,” Brown said. “I call on Congress to step up and push back against the White House’s reckless immigration policies.”
Oregon’s U.S. senators and multiple representatives agreed.
“Deporting people brought to this country as children is heartless, doesn’t improve national safety and will have a detrimental effect on our economy,” U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici said in a statement. “America is better than this; we don’t — and shouldn’t — penalize children for the actions of their parents.”
‘Something has to give’
Gutierrez is hopeful the six-month time limit will prompt Congress to pass meaningful legislative reform to address the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. But he isn’t sure what to realistically expect, he said.
“This administration has been so unpredictable,” he said. “I’m hoping that we do get some legislative reform. We’re reaching a breaking point with this where something has to give.”
Until something does give, immigrants such as Ponce May will continue to grapple with an uncertain fate.
“It will be difficult, I think, for everyone,” she said.