As the candidates take the stage tonight in Salt Lake City for the first vice presidential debate, immigration policy remains top of mind for families across the state of Utah who have been harmed by the Trump Administration’s continued efforts to demonize immigrant families. These attacks include repeated attempts to terminate the DACA and TPS programs and deport Dreamers, to radically restricting student visas for international students at Utah universities.
Here are five ways the Trump Administration’s immigration policies have inflicted incredible human and economic damage on Utah’s communities and families over the past four years:
Utah’s 8,500 DACA recipients remain at risk of deportation. In June 2020, the Supreme Court struck down the Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to terminate DACA and deport Dreamers. Six weeks later and without ever fully restoring DACA, the Trump Administration issued a defiant new policy memo, cutting in half the length of time under which DACA program protections are granted, and excluding applications from hundreds of thousands of would-be first-time DACA candidates who should have been eligible. This action was another effort to subvert the will of the Supreme Court, and it has laid the groundwork for the complete termination of the DACA program in 2021. Among these Dreamers is Alan Ledesma, whose parents moved to the Bronx when he was just 9. He is currently a chef at an Orem sushi bar while working on a degree in public relations at Utah Valley University. Without a permanent legislative solution from Congress, Dreamers like Alan could face deportation to countries they barely know if DACA is fully terminated.
Another tactic by this Administration to attack immigrants includes obstructing the process of legal immigration through increasing fees for immigration applications. Immigrants in Utah have been left in limbo, worried about their futures as the government threatens to raise fees on items like naturalization applications. Utah residents like Mario Garcia, who graduated from BYU and has lived in this country for 17 years, have gone into debt in order to keep up with recent hikes in fees. In early September, Mario was surprised to hear that naturalization application fees would go from $640 to $1,170, a difference of $530.While living in the U.S., Mario met his wife and had two children who are U.S. citizens and rely on him for financial and parental support. Mario has been trying to get his U.S. citizenship for nearly two decades, a process made more difficult by exorbitant fee increases proposed by the Trump Administration.
Over the past few years, the Trump Administration has taken steps to strip work permits and deportation protections from hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the United States with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), including roughly 2,600 individuals in Utah. President Trump’s efforts to get rid of this humanitarian program will have devastating consequences on families and communities, extending into the lives of roughly 279, 200 U.S. citizen children under the age 18 living with and depending on people with TPS protections. Despite multiple lawsuits challenging this Administration’s attempts to end the program, TPS holders — many of whom have lived and worked in this country for two decades — are still at risk of losing their status and becoming a priority for deportation. Among those is Geraldine Baptiste, who came to the U.S. from Haiti in 1997 as a toddler.When Baptiste was 16, the work permit she earned through TPS allowed her to get a job at the grocery store Publix and pay taxes. She currently attends Bethune-Cookman University, as a liberal arts major and wants to go to nursing school, but her future remains uncertain. If TPS is terminated, Baptiste could be deported to a country she barely knows and separated from her two younger sisters, both of whom are U.S. citizens born in Florida.
Family separation has been a central tenet of the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, and has been used to rip immigrants away from their loved ones at the border and in the interior of the United States. Among those impacted is Maria Santiago Garcia, a mother of four U.S. citizen children who was working as a manager at a McDonald’s in Salt Lake City before she was deported to Guatemala in 2017. Garcia fled her birth country in 2004 after witnessing a female food seller killed with machetes at a market. She was targeted by the gang after speaking with police. Garcia became a target for deportation in the U.S. after the Trump Administration eliminated enforcement priorities, making all undocumented people a priority for deportation. Now, Garcia has made the decision to send two of her U.S. citizen children back to the United States so they can pursue an education here, rather than keep them in Guatemala, where she lives in a one-room house with no shower or water heater.
Trump’s repeated efforts to slash legal immigration to the lowest levels in nearly a century include attacks on international students. These attempts to radically restrict international student visas combined with the U.S. social and political climate under his Administration is driving this trend. As the U.S. continues to see fewer international students, Utah has welcomed more of them, with roughly one out of every 106 international students studying in Utah last year. Diego Calderon, an international student at Brigham Young University, is among the tens of thousands of people whose path to a U.S. college degree is further complicated by the Trump Administration’s latest proposal from last week, aimed to inflict severe restrictions on international students from certain countries in predominantly Africa and Asia. Experts warn that the proposed rule could devastate research and tech innovation nationwide.