When Maribel Hernandez was 2 years old, she and her pregnant mother began their journey to the United States from Juan Aldama in Zacatecas, Mexico. They rode in a series of trucks for hundreds of miles with others on other journeys, avoiding border patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and helicopters. Sickness in the trucks was rampant — if someone got sick, everyone got sick. Eventually, they arrived at the Rio Grande, crossed, and made it to the United States.
Hernandez and her mother later reunited with Hernandez’s father, who had already come to the United States by plane, in Oklahoma City. They’ve been there ever since.
Hernandez applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals soon after President Barack Obama’s administration created it in June 2012. The program allows undocumented people who entered the United States as minors and meet other criteria to receive renewable two-year relief from deportation, and it makes them eligible for work permits.
Hernandez is now a political science sophomore with an uncertain future in a tumultuous political climate. And she’s not alone: Jabar Shumate, vice president for the university community, said admissions' office data shows there are 75 undocumented students at OU.
During his campaign, President Donald Trump said he would repeal DACA, calling it “illegal amnesty.” He has since softened his stance on DACA, though, saying at a White House press conference Feb. 16 that it’s a “difficult subject” for him.
DACA’s future is up in the air — the Trump administration may repeal or change the program, but no one is certain of what will happen.
U.S. TACKLING IMMIGRATION
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you,” Trump said pointing at people in a crowd June 16, 2015, when he announced his candidacy. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Hernandez remembers when Trump said this. She thought of her parents.
“They sacrificed their entire lives just for me. ... And to hear someone say that Mexico sends it worst, when all I have ever seen is its best ... and for someone to run their campaign on such hateful words, it was really awful,” she said.
Carlos Rubio, aerospace engineering freshman from Jalisco, Mexico, who is also undocumented, said people who agree with Trump’s rhetoric don’t see who immigrants really are.
“They don’t see what’s good from them and what they can bring to society,” he said.
Trump has placed a lot of focus on immigration since he took office. Five days into his presidency, he signed an executive order to move forward with the construction of a wall to block the southern U.S. border. On Jan. 27, he signed an executive order indefinitely suspending the admission of Syrian refugees and temporarily banning travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries.
On Feb. 17, The Associated Press reported that the Department of Homeland Security had weighed using 100,000 National Guard troops for immigration roundups, although the White House has denied that report’s validity.
Steven Langer, an immigration attorney in Oklahoma City who said he has assisted in processing 100 to 300 DACA applications, said there is fear that Trump may reverse the deportation philosophy set forth by the Obama administration, which was to prioritize deporting criminals before anyone else.
“DACAs right now still are last in line for deportation,” Langer said. “But once you un-prioritize felons, misdemeanants ... the natural reaction of the enforcement is to go for low-hanging fruit, because that’s how you put up the most impressive numbers. That’s how you’re able to round up the most people.”
Even with that philosophy, ICE deported 3,118,927 people under the Obama administration — more than it did under any other president. Rubio said he is worried that Trump will deport even more.
“That number is going to shoot up,” he said.
LACK OF GOVERNMENT SUPPORT
Oklahoma was one of the most pro-Trump states in the country during the presidential election, with more than 65 percent of its votes going to the real estate mogul. Not only do Rubio and Hernandez think Trump and his administration are against them, they also think Oklahoma’s federal representatives — Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, in particular — don’t support them.
However, Rubio said there are pockets of support within the state, such as OU, his high school and Aspiring Americans, an Oklahoma City-based organization that helps undocumented students through mentorship, grants, scholarships and legal assistance.
Rubio’s OU experience began as a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he met Shumate, a fellow Booker T. graduate. Rubio said Shumate began mentoring him when he found out about Rubio’s undocumented status.
Shumate said Rubio is like a little brother to him.
“He was one of the first students I had a chance to personally recruit, and we’ve become very close,” Shumate said.
“Carlos Rubio is a survivor,” he continued. “He doesn’t let any setbacks cause him to be bitter or be ungrateful. ... His story is one of resilience, and I’m just very proud of him.”
Along with Shumate, OU President David Boren, Student Government Association President J.D. Baker, and other students have also expressed support for undocumented students.
Boren supports DACA and the DREAM Act, according to a statement from OU press secretary Matt Epting. Baker recently sent letters to Lankford, Inhofe and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, which expressed his support of undocumented students and asked them to support the proposed BRIDGE Act.
Baker said he has not yet heard back from any of the three politicians. The Daily also contacted Lankford and Inhofe Feb. 12 regarding the BRIDGE Act and Baker’s letters but received no response.
“If they responded (to Baker’s letters) ... it would feel like they were listening,” Rubio said. “But I don’t think we’ll get a response.”
AN UNKNOWN FUTURE
As of Sept. 30, 2016, the U.S. government had approved 1,340,305 total requests for initial and renewed deferred action, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is unclear how Trump will act on DACA, but Langer said it would be “catastrophic” if Trump deported everyone protected under DACA.
“The country runs on stability and confidence. Our country doesn’t run on chaos and misdirection,” Langer said. “It would take us from an immigrant-created country over to the category of a nationalist sort of country. And I think it’s very dangerous.”
However, Langer said he does not think Trump will immediately remove every DACA-protected person from the country. He said he thinks Trump will most likely let applications in process go through, but still remove them when their two-year deferral is over.
“To be uncertain about your future … I guess we’ve lived with that for our whole lives,” Rubio said. “So, it’s just natural.”
Even with their futures in others’ hands, Rubio and Hernandez are trying to be optimistic.
“If we go back, we go back,” Rubio said. “We continue to study, we go to school over there, we figure it out.”
Hernandez said she thinks all the time about her deferred action being repealed, and the thought is scary, but she’ll have to keep fighting.
“If I don’t end up receiving full citizenship, if I end up getting deported, then I guess I’m gonna have to follow my dreams elsewhere or try to get back somehow,” Hernandez said.