Immigration under the Trump administration: Resources and advice for the country’s undocumented people

In his first exclusive television interview with “60 Minutes” Sunday, President-elect Donald Trump promised to make good on his pledge to construct a wall at the Mexican, U.S. border, in addition to cracking down on undocumented U.S. immigrants with criminal records.

But how these actions will unfold no one is sure. The president-elect has said he in his 10 point plan for American that he will: “Move criminal aliens out day one.”

It’s that focus on a criminal record, according to one immigration expert, that could really raise the risk of deportation for undocumented immigrants.

“People need to make sure to stay out of any negative interaction with law enforcement,” said Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, who spoke during a recent phone telecast about immigration organized by New American Media.

Crimes such as DUIs, driving under the influence, and drug convictions would count for having a criminal background, Kinoshita said. So, undocumented immigrants should take steps to try and legally remove those cases from their records if at all possible. Additionally, she said, in some states actions can be taken to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor.

Kinoshita also stressed that undocumented immigrants should move quickly forward on renewing or applying for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which came from a 2012 executive order from President Barack Obama. Trump repeatedly stressed while campaigning he would dissolve DACA, a program available to people who came to the U.S. at a young age and who have lived and attended school here. It allows people to get a two-year work permit as well as access to a social security number.

Historically, she said, administrative programs like DACA have never been used as a list to go after people.

“So for those already on the [DACA] list, a Trump presidency shouldn’t present a new risk, however, whether or not the government would indeed use the list to deport individuals remains to be seen due to the unpredictable nature of Donald Trump,” Kinoshita said.

Until Trump takes office Jan. 20, the government will continue to process initial applications for the program and for those who renewing their status.

Kinoshita also recommends undocumented immigrants speak with a legal services provider to see if they’re eligible for any other immigration options. But, she cautioned, people should seek help from registered nonprofits to avoid fraud and scams. Immigration Advocates Network has a national directory of more than 950 free and low-cost nonprofits that provide immigration and legal services in all 50 states.

Trump made immigration a large part of his campaign’s focus. He vowed to build a wall between Mexico and the US, to assemble a “special deportation task force” and to cut off all federal funding to self-declared sanctuary cities. Thirty-one cities — including Chicago — have taken on the title, pledging that local police will not cooperate with federal law enforcement to deport undocumented immigrants.

On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Chicago will remain a sanctuary city. This came on the heels of similar statements from the mayors of New York City and Los Angeles.

Kinoshita said that the mass deportation of millions won’t be such an easy promise to follow up on. Not only would it be costly, but the scale would also be difficult on a logistics level.

Kamal Essaheb, director of policy and advocacy at the National Immigrant Law Center (NILC) said ultimately, states and cities still have their own immigration policies outside of federal jurisdiction and Essaheb said immigrants should become familiar with those rights on a state- by-state basis. These include hospital confidentiality policies, access to higher education, and state laws that allow undocumented individuals to obtain drivers licenses.

The country’s also still waiting to see exactly what a Trump administration will look like. The announcement of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff signaled to Republicans that Trump was willing to walk a more moderate party line.

However, the appointment of ultra conservative Trump campaign manager Stephen K. Bannon as White House chief strategist has critics from both political parties voicing concerns that the move sends a message that racist and nationalist views will be tolerated in a Trump presidency. And who will be appointed next is still a guessing game.

For instance, Essaheb said, Trump could potentially appoint Kris Kobach, the current Secretary of State of Kansas who drafted and led efforts in many states to pass anti-immigration laws, to run the Department of Homeland Security. “If Donald Trump is actually trying to seek unity in the country, then someone like that would not be an appropriate fit,” Essaheb said. “Right now, we’re waiting to see who he nominates.”

“We definitely have a fight ahead of us,” Essaheb said. “A fight for the rights of immigrants to be here, a fight against the criminalization of immigrants and people of color, and a fight for true economic justice for a country where everybody, regardless of the color of their skin or their immigration status, can seek opportunities to make their lives better.”

“Donald Trump cannot take away the constitution,” he continued. “We all need to be advocates for immigrants.”

Additional Resources:

Chloe Riley (@chloeriley84) is a writer and journalist for Public Narrative.