The election of Donald Trump is something Charlotte’s immigrant population never believed could happen, so reactions Wednesday were an expected mix of shock and fear.
After all, this is a man who talked of building a wall along the Mexican border, referred to undocumented immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, and pledged to deport 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
What’s surprising, however, is there was also a hint of optimism, as immigrant advocates pointed out President Barack Obama had a track record of deportations that is among the worst in history.
The immigrant advocacy agency Unidos We Stand says the Obama administration was one of “broken promises” to fix the immigration system. And it built up border security to an all-time high, making immigrants wonder if Trump’s proposed wall is redundant. Pew Research Center studies show the administration deported more unauthorized immigrants during its first six years than the Republican George W. Bush administration did over its full eight.
Byron Martinez, director of operations for Unidos We Stand, says there’s little doubt that “the Democratic party’s institutions have failed for the past eight years.” He believes that actually made things worse for undocumented immigrants who were hard working and otherwise law abiding.
“President Trump now has the responsibility of unifying our people and re-establishing the American Dream for everyone,” said Martinez “We remain hopeful for a brighter America, in which those who are disenfranchised and living in the shadows of society will one day be granted the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”
Charlotte immigration attorney Tin Thanh Nguyen said he received nearly a dozen messages from immigrants on Wednesday, expressing fears that their pending cases were jeopardized. This included some applying for asylum and others who were here legally and petitioning to bring their families into the country.
Nguyen said one of his own fears is if a Trump administration will impact the number of refugees allow in the country.
“That’s very personal for me, as a child of refugees,” Nguyen said. “It’s scary, because Trump will be in charge of the executive branch, and that includes the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. With all the things he has at his disposal, he could make good on his promises (of mass deportations).”
Another fear: Once sworn in, Trump also reverse or at least stop renewing deferred action applications for about 700,000 immigrants brought here illegally as children to remain and work temporarily in the United States. A similar program launched by Obama to protect the immigrant parents of U.S. citizens has been challenged in U.S. courts.
Many immigrants had drawn comfort prior to the election in Hillary Clinton’s massive mobilization of the 27 million registered Latino voters
The organization America’s Voice said North Carolina’s Latino voters backed Clinton over Trump by an 81 to 16 percent margin, while Asian Americans supported Clinton over Trump by a 73 to 22 percent margin.
Héctor Vaca with the immigrant advocacy group Action NC believes Trump won because of a successfully delivered message that “certain groups of people are to blame for what’s wrong with the country.”
Vaca is among those who fear mass deportations for families who have been living and working in Charlotte for a decade or more.
“You saw the acts of violence committed during Trump’s campaign and my fear now is that his election will give those people a belief they can be even more racist and attack people of color,” said Vaca.
“I see any person of color being worried now. It’s not tattooed on their body that they’re undocumented, so any person of color may now be assumed to be undocumented.”
One bright spot, he says, is a belief that Democrat Roy Cooper has been elected governor of the state. (The final count is still not in.) Cooper is viewed as having more moderate views on immigrants than Republican incumbent Pat McCrory, he said.
As for the proposed wall Trump says he’ll build along the Mexican border, Vaca laughs. “Who is he going to get to build it?”