As soon as Donald Trump was sworn in as president on Friday, the clock started. Among his hundreds of campaign promises, one stuck out in particular to young immigrants: his pledge to immediately dismantle President Obama’s key deportation-deferral program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Immigrants and the 752,000 undocumented young people who benefit from the initiative have been watching the minutes pass intently.
“I have kind of two options. Option one: Be super scared because DACA can end any day,” Abril Gallardo, a 26-year-old who lives in Phoenix, told me on the eve of Trump’s inauguration. “Or,” she added, “the other option, which also includes all these things being taken away from me, but I use those to motivate me to fight.”
I first met Gallardo in November, in the days leading up to and following the election. At the time, she spoke of her excitement at finally being able to transfer with her associate’s degree from Phoenix Community College to Arizona State University. She applied for DACA back when it was announced in 2012. The program grants two-year reprieves from deportation to young undocumented immigrants who clear a host of other hurdles (among them, criminal-background checks, longtime residence in the United States, and education requirements).
In addition to temporary protection from deportation, DACA recipients are allowed work authorization and, depending on the rules in their states, eligibility for in-state tuition and even driver’s licenses. In her four years as a DACA recipient, Gallardo has taken full advantage of the program, moving forward with her education and her professional career. Today she’s a program director at a nonprofit called Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA. Gallardo has also managed to save enough money for what she hoped would be a down payment on a home that she wants to buy for her parents.
But DACA exists entirely at the discretion of the president, and can be dismantled without congressional approval. That precariousness, and Trump’s repeated campaign promise to undo it, have fueled a potent anxiety among young immigrants across the country and the people who love and depend on them.
“All my different dreams, currently going to school, working, all of that that I have been building, being able to support my parents, being able to pay for my education, that stability can go away just like that,” Gallardo told me last week, just before the inauguration.
Now, in Trump’s first full week as president, the fate of DACA is still up in the air. Immigrants and their advocates have been bracing daily for the very worst.