Young undocumented immigrants face uncertain future amid crackdown

A student from Monte del Sol Charter School protests last September at Santa Fe Community College in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and young undocumented immigrants. Gabriela Campos/New Mexican file photo

In April, federal officials arrested 97 immigrants at a meat-processing plant in rural Tennessee in the largest single workplace raid in a decade.

Children of those arrested wondered whether they should go back to school, fearing they too might get picked up. It’s a concern for students of immigrants everywhere, including in Santa Fe.

Such actions make students nervous.

“I want my friends who are immigrants to feel protected [rather than] threatened,” said Santa Fe teen Jefferson Vargas. “Immigrants do a lot for us, and … a lot of people do want them here.”

Last fall, President Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security gave Congress six months to work out the details of unraveling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a move that could force out some 800,000 Dreamers, as those who were brought illegally into the country as children and have benefited from the program are known. In New Mexico, an end to the program could affect 6,800 young people.

Immigrants, students and advocates rallied in a number of cities, including Santa Fe, to say the action had to be stopped. A series of court battles and delayed action on the part of Congress have left Trump’s plan unfulfilled for now. That, in turn, leaves the fate of those people in limbo.

How many of them are students attending public schools in Santa Fe is unclear, because the district does not keep records of how many of its roughly 13,000 students are undocumented immigrants.

Santa Fe has declared itself a sanctuary city, one where immigrants can take refuge and where local law enforcement officials limit their cooperation with the federal government to enforce immigration laws. Trump has repeatedly characterized sanctuary cities as “incubators of crime,” and he has made several efforts to defund them as part of the administration’s plan for immigration crackdowns.

He is not alone in contemplating what should be done to stem the tide of undocumented immigrants to America. Though “countless cities, counties, and states across the country pledge to be safe havens for undocumented immigrants, there are equally as many pledging to harshly crackdown on undocumented immigrants,” wrote Diana Negron for the Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication hub.

Capital High School senior Laura Balderrama, who recently helped host a gathering and discussion of immigration polices and how they could impact students, said she can feel the tension and uncertainty around her in school.

Some students who could be impacted by federal policies may not even understand what they are all about, which is one reason the school hosted the morning event, which included a presentation on immigration policies and problems by local immigration attorney Allegra Love.

“I feel like kids are concerned about how these policies could impact the opportunities they may have,” Balderrama said. “They want to be more informed and they want opportunities to go to college, but how do they meet legal requirements to go to college?”

Many of those students work part-time jobs in an effort to support their families, which may make them susceptible to workplace immigration raids or visits, she said.

She said she would like to see more teens “standing up” for these students. “It’s important,” she said. “If we don’t speak up, then we end up fighting for something that we still don’t acknowledge.”

Though many students believe Santa Fe is a safe community, particularly as a sanctuary city, perhaps just as many fear that changes under the Trump administration could threaten their safety, as a local high school student and undocumented immigrant said. “I love Santa Fe because it is a place for my friends and family and people like me,” said the teen, who did not want her name used. “But when I hear about [politicians] trying to take away DACA, I feel like there won’t be any more programs to help people like me.”

But Love told Capital High School students that there are resources to help, including the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. Love, executive director and an attorney for the project, explained that it provides legal services to immigrants with all sorts of needs (not just DACA) throughout New Mexico. “We are here to help make sure that immigrant families and even refugees arriving to our border have the expert legal help that they need without having to pay really high prices,” she said.

“Dreamers do so much in Santa Fe. They are teachers, they work in the hospital, they are in the service industry, they build homes, they work in our nonprofits, they work in our banks. We cannot afford to lose these people from our community and our workforce.”

Natalia Payne is a sophomore at Santa Fe High School. Contact her at

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