About 100 immigrant families with their kids trickle into a community center in Carrolton, Georgia. It’s the Friday after Election Day, and they’ve come to hear how Trump’s win could affect them and their families.
Gyla Gonzalez, executive director of Latinos United of Carroll County, leads the group in prayer before the information session begins.
“Our Lord, thank you for everything that you give to us, your love, your mercy,” she prays.
Immigration has been a big campaign issue this year, from mass deportation to building a wall. Now that the election is over, some immigrant service organizations, like Latinos United of Carroll County, have been hosting meetings to help people brace for what could be next under a Trump administration.
‘Out Of Our Control’
The younger kids are taken to the back rooms by volunteers to help keep them occupied and relatively quiet. The students sip on their Capri Suns and make airplanes out of construction paper. Another volunteer reads to them.
Here, they’re having a good time, but out front, their parents hear from an immigration lawyer trying to calm nerves about possibilities of being separated from their children if they were to be deported.
“It’s out of our control the fact that he’s going to be our president,” says Amy Velasquez, an immigration lawyer in Carrollton. “What is in our control is we can inform ourselves, we can educate ourselves, and we can plan.”
Velasquez fields questions from the crowd, like can a child lose their citizenship if their parents are not here legally? Or can immigration agents enter their house without permission? Or just how much power does the president have in deporting people?
“The question was ‘OK – [if] the president is limited by Congress’s control of the budget. Could a billionaire use his own money to go and start searching for people and building a wall and whatever else he wants to do?’ The answer is ‘No,” she says.
Velasquez explains there are checks and balances in the U.S. government. She doesn’t expect radical changes overnight. But she tells the crowd to hope for the best and plan for the worst, including separation from their children.
What Comes Next?
Rio Martinez Gomez, 14, is grappling with what could be next for his family. He came with his father and younger brother to the meeting. He’s American and the election results, he says, felt like a door shut on him.
“My parents, they’re not Americans, U.S. citizens, so it’s going to be really hard to keep on going with my dreams without them,” he says.
He says, right now, he’s trying to act calm and normal.
One mother of three has been in the country without legal status for 14 years. Event organizers asked that her name not be used to protect her and her children.
She says she has talked to her children about the possibility of being separated, and says she has a brother who is in the country legally that they could stay with.
“My little son – he’s 6 years old. He asked me what [would] happen if they deport me?” she says.
She says she doesn’t want them to grow up in her native Honduras because it wouldn’t be a good place for them.
Yenifer Martinez, 25, says she hasn’t been able to sleep over the last several days. Martinez is a recipient of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – a program created by President Barack Obama for young people brought to the country illegally when they were children.
Trump has vowed to end DACA, and she fears she’ll be separated from her family and sent to Mexico.
“I think about that, and I freak out because I have a little baby and every day I just think of him, like what if I get, you know, deported?” Martinez says.
President-elect Trump pledged in his campaign to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants. He told CBS’s “60 minutes” in an interview that aired this weekend that his priority now was to deport 2 to 3 million immigrants who he says have criminal records.
Trump said he would make a determination on other undocumented immigrants he called “terrific people” once the border is secure and work on a “great immigration bill.”
Martinez says she has her hopes up.
“I’m just praying to God that he is the president but now that he saw that Hispanics voted for him too, to be like, not too harsh on us,” she says.
Though it’s unclear the timeframe in which Trump intends to deport people, his numbers about deportation may not be that far off from the number of people who have already been deported under Obama’s administration. Though his executive actions have allowed some immigrants to stay temporarily, more than 2.4 million people have been deported since Obama took office in 2009, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.