Twenty-two-year-old Dulce Sigüenza vividly remembers the day President Barack Obama announced a major executive immigration reform, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—even as he deported record numbers of immigrants. It was the day she graduated from high school.
“I remember being excited,” Sigüenza says. “The fact that it became reality to us was huge.” The next day, in June of 2012, she started talking to her parents about applying to the program.
DACA was designed to shield hundreds of thousands of immigrant teenagers and young adults, all of them brought to this country by their parents as children, from deportation.
Sigüenza came to the United States from Mexico with her family at age 11. She is undocumented and firmly believes it's important to share her story, not hide it.
DACA worked; it enabled her to get a work permit so that she could get jobs and access financial aid while in college. While at the University of Washington, Sigüenza worked at a mall, a nonprofit, and as a student assistant on campus. “That meant a lot to me, because I was able to help my parents,” she says.
She graduated last June.
When she applied to the program, the Department of Homeland Security said the information she shared—including her home address and country of birth—wouldn’t be used to deport her or her family members.
But all of that could change under a president Donald Trump, who has repeatedly promised to eliminate DACA and to deport millions of immigrants.
“There is fear,” says Sigüenza. “Fear is inevitable at this point… This fear is here and it’s not going to go away until he goes away.
“What if one day I come home and my parents are not there?”
"I have a normal life here," she says. "I go to work and then I commute. I go to the gym. As I interact with people, I just think to myself, you don’t even know that I’m undocumented."
About 17,000 young people in Washington State took advantage of the DACA program, according to immigration attorney Matt Adams, who works with the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project (NWIRP).
Adams says families are hoping the government will make good on its promises—that DACA won’t become “a gotcha program where they’ll turn around and say, ‘We’re going to deport all you students.’”
“But that’s not something we can guarantee,” Adams says. “[Since the election,] we’ve received a lot of phone calls from many worried individuals.”
At this point, NWIRP is recommending that young people don't apply to DACA. “It’s not worth the risk from our perspective,” Adams says.
Democratic lawmakers are calling on Obama to pardon those already enrolled in DACA in order to protect them. "It's not the right thing to leave these kids just hanging out there," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), told NBC News on Thursday.
The city of Seattle represents a literal refuge from the threat of Trumpism. Sigüenza says post-election statements from city officials like Mayor Ed Murray and police chief Kathleen O’Toole, along with thousands of anti-Trump protesters who took to the streets, “give us that reassurance that at least in this city, things will stay the same.”
Across the state, the Washington State Patrol has a policy against detaining anyone to check their immigration status. Governor Jay Inslee is "committed to making sure that people can stay where they are," according to a spokesperson. And if Trump thinks Sigüenza and others like her will quietly submit to a mass deportation orders, well, “it’s not going to happen,” she says.