TENNESSEE DIVIDED: The immigrant perspective

Feb 12, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  Last fall U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions announced President Donald Trump’s decision to phase out the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Launched by former president Obama, DACA shields some 800,000 undocumented young people from deportation.

Credit tnimmigrant.org

In defending the decision to rescind DACA, Sessions cited fears some Americans commonly associate with illegal immigrants.

“Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering,” Sessions contended. “Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism.”

Dulce Castro also has fears.

The 18-year-old Nashville resident is one of the 8,300 DACA recipients registered in Tennessee. She said the undocumented always worry they could be swept up by immigration authorities and deported.

But she said the day Donald Trump was elected worry was replaced by fear.

“Many people were crying, because we didn’t know what could happen,” she recalled. “So, like, it’s just hard. It’s hard to live here and try work hard and get attacked at the same time.  Not easy.”

Castro was only six when her parents crossed the southern border into the U.S. She remembers very little about her native Mexico. She said her parents now rarely leave the house, afraid they will be caught and deported.

“They’re like, ‘If something ever happens you are staying here. You are staying here, because you have a better future here,’” she recalled.

Adding to the stress, Castro’s younger sister was born here in the U.S. and so is a citizen. The family worries what will happen to her if the rest of the family is deported.

Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus is Policy Director for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. She said the past year has been “incredibly stressful” for the state’s undocumented community.

She explained many immigrants have sought counseling for their fears, others are hiding in their homes. Some have sent their life savings out of the country fearing they could lose it if deported.

Sherman-Nikolaus said harassment at school, on the job and from government officials has become routine. In spite of that, she said Tennessee’s undocumented are not giving up.

“I think it’s really motivated people to stand up for their rights, and so we’ve seen the immigrant community take bold action to show that they’re here to stay and fight against deportation and fight to protect themselves,” she concluded.

Dulce Castro agrees with that sentiment. She fought back tears to express her resolve.

“We are here to stay, because this is all that I know. It’s all that we know, and we will fight, because I consider this to be my country. This is my home.”

This story is part of the WMOT series entitled Tennessee Divided: An exploration of the cultural, racial and political discord across Middle Tennessee and the nation. Use the links included here to explore other stories in the series.