When Laura Veira, an 18-year-old from Connecticut, started classes at Harvard University last fall, it felt like her years of hard work and sacrifices were finally paying off. And thanks to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), it seemed like her immigration status wasn't going to deter her from achieving her dreams.
But since the election, Veira has had to rethink her time at Harvard. Her 21-year-old sister is graduating soon, and she might not be able to apply to medical school. And her 20-year-old brother will not be able to work legally without DACA, so her parents have been talking about sending him back to Colombia — a place he has not called home for most of his life.
A world without DACA would not only mean that the future Veira has worked so hard for may not materialize; it could also mean breaking up her family indefinitely.
And she's far from the only DREAMer who may pay a steep price if the new administration eliminates the program — the futures of almost 750,000 undocumented young people who depend on DACA seems more uncertain than ever.
So, what has President-elect Donald Trump said about this program?
The president-elect promised to end DACA during his first 100 days in office. He also said early in his campaign that he would deport every undocumented immigrant in the country.
But he recently shifted gears about his mass deportation plan and also appeared to soften his tone towards DREAMers in his "Person of the Year" interview with TIME.
"On a humanitarian basis, it’s a very tough situation," he said. "We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud. But that’s a very tough situation."
Trump hasn't presented any kind of concrete solution yet, so there's a real fear among advocates that those under DACA could be deported. After all, they provided all their personal information to the government in order to qualify for the program, and the Trump administration could now use this against them.
"There's a lot of uncertainty," Veira told Refinery29. "Our lives are in the hands of this one man, in the hands of the government, people who don't even know us. And it's stressful, because we don't even know if we're going to be here next year."
But wait, how does DACA work again?
Simply put, DACA is a two-year work permit. It also gives undocumented youth a Social Security number and exempts them from deportation. It was implemented by President Obama through executive action in the summer of 2012, after efforts to enact the DREAM Act failed.
DACA brought many undocumented youth out of the shadows and gave them a whole new world of opportunities. They are now students, doctors, homeowners. And many may be your coworkers or classmates.
However, they're not residents or citizens, as DACA isn't a path to this type of legalization. They're also required to pay taxes, but are not eligible for any type of government benefits — not even the Affordable Care Act, for example.
"The usual misconception from the Republicans and Trump is that one, Obama didn’t have the power to do this. And two, [that] it’s a blanket [form of] amnesty. Neither of those are true," Julieta Garibay, deputy advocacy director at the youth immigrants rights organization United We Dream, explained to Refinery29.
Another common misconception is that anyone who applies for DACA automatically gets the permit. In fact, the process to get a DACA permit takes a long time and is very expensive. Applicants need to meet certain criteria, such as arriving in the U.S. before the age of 16 and not having a criminal record. And they have to provide a lot of evidence.
There's also a $465 application and biometrics fee. After everything is submitted, a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agent decides whether to grant the permit.
"It’s very much on an individual basis, and every case gets reviewed," Garibay said. "It’s not something that people can just apply and get it as soon as possible, without any issues."
What is being done to protect the program or the DREAMers?
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, are working together in the Senate to pass a legislation called the BRIDGE Act.
The bipartisan bill, which was introduced to the Senate in December 2016, would effectively maintain the temporary protections offered by DACA while Congress passes a more comprehensive immigration reform. If it becomes law, the BRIDGE Act would be applied to those who already have DACA and the youth who are eligible to get the permit, but don't have it yet.
This week, it was announced that Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican, and Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat, have also introduced a companion legislation in the House.
The difference between both programs is that while DACA was enacted through executive action —which means that Trump could undo it with just the stroke of a pen — the BRIDGE Act would be passed by Congress and would be more difficult to repeal. It's unclear how the Trump administration would react if the bill makes it to the president's desk.
Another option is for universities to declare they're "sanctuary campuses," which would mean they can shield undocumented students from immigration authorities and protect their personal information. Since the election, there have been sanctuary campus petitions in at least 170 schools.
I've heard about sanctuary campuses. How do they work?
They are modeled after the so-called "sanctuary cities" — places across the U.S. where the local government limits its cooperation with federal authorities in the detention of undocumented immigrants. The practice has been strongly condemned by Trump, who says he will cut the federal funding to sanctuary cities.
Despite this, mayors have stood their ground in places like New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco.
College administrations can also refuse to cooperate with federal authorities by declining to release the students' information or even prohibit immigration authorities on campus unless they have a warrant, as the University of Pennsylvania plans to do.
In the case of Harvard University, President Drew G. Faust declined a petition to declare the school a sanctuary campus, saying the term didn't carry any legal significance.
"It also risks drawing special attention to the students in ways that could put their status in greater jeopardy," she said. "I believe it would endanger, rather than protect, our students, and that is not something I am willing for this institution to do."
Veira, the DREAMer, doesn't agree with this analysis of what a sanctuary campus really means. She argues that many students are already out of the "undo-closet" and the declaration would give them a reassurance that they can count on the school to protect them.
"It would give us peace of mind to have that promise from Harvard. It would mean that they would be on our side no matter what," she said.
Is there anything I can do to help?
Yes. A good first step is to contact your elected representatives and let them know you would like them to protect DACA, or at least for them to support the BRIDGE Act. Here's a handy guide of how to do it.
Another thing you can do is donate to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), United We Dream, America's Voice, and other institutions working in favor of immigrants' rights.
Finally, you can also help by signing petitions like this one to ask mayors to make their cities sanctuaries or by checking out this list of college petitions.