Angelica Villalobos has had difficult conversations with her four daughters, ages 17, 13, 10, and 8, in recent days. All four are U.S. citizens. But Villalobos, who lives in Oklahoma City, is undocumented.
She’s been in the country for decades before receiving temporary protection from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration will end the DACA program, which means that people like Villalobos are now at greater risk of deportation.
And so, Villalobos and her husband—also a DACA recipient—are preparing their daughters for the worst. They’ve told the 17-year-old that she may have to become the guardian of her three younger sisters if they, the parents, get deported. Already she’s begun driving her sisters to school and picking them up afterward to get used to the possibility.
“I tell them it will be OK,” Villalobos said, “even though I don’t know if it will be OK.”
There’s been substantial focus on the economic impact of the rescission of DACA, since upwards of 800,000 people have temporary work permits through the program. But as DACA recipients lose their protection and face higher risk of deportation, it’s not just economy that will take the hardest hit—it’s families as well.
There are about 200,000 children who are U.S. citizens who have parents that receive DACA protections, according to two studies. The most recent of those studies was conducted by Tom Wong of the University of California at San Diego, in conjunction with United We Dream, the National Immigration Law Center, and the liberal Center for American Progress (PDF). For that study, researchers surveyed 3,063 DACA recipients from Aug. 1 to Aug. 20 of this year. Of those, more than one in four said they had at least one child who was an American citizen.
“The data shows that 25.7 percent of DACA recipients have at least one U.S. citizen child,” Wong told The Daily Beast. “If extrapolated to the total population of DACA recipients, this suggests that at least 200,000 U.S. citizen children live in the U.S. currently who have a DACA recipient for a parent.”
Brian Root, who does data analysis for Human Rights Watch, said Wong’s study was a reliable indicator of the DACA population.
“It’s as good as you can do with this population,” he said.
Root noted that other studies have similar findings. One, which the pro-DACA group United We Dream conducted in June 2015, found that 24.5 percent of respondents had a U.S. citizen child (PDF). Root said this would also indicate that DACA recipients parent about 200,000 U.S. citizen children.
As DACA is wound down in the coming months, these children face a highly fraught and uncertain future. While the Trump administration has announced its priorities for deportation are extremely broad, DHS has said it will not proactively provide DACA recipients’ information to deportation officers. That said, officers can still use recipients’ information in deportation proceedings, according to a recent DHS statement.
The White House has already indicated it wants DACA recipients to leave, encouraging them to make travel plans, according to talking points obtained by CNN.
“The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States -- including proactively seeking travel documentation -- or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible,” the memo said.
Trump isn’t the first president to deport the parents of U.S. citizens; Obama deported millions of people during his presidency, separating countless families. And he left Trump with a powerful immigration enforcement system, including a significant expansion of detention facilities. Now, Trump is poised to solidify that legacy, while ending the one form of reprieve Obama offered to undocumented people.
Along with the families, advocates and lawyers are already seeing the end results. Andrew Free, an immigration attorney in Nashville, said that one of his clients, a woman who is temporarily shielded from deportation by DACA, has a son in elementary school who is afraid she will be deported.
“My client’s son became inconsolable at school when she got caught in traffic and was a bit late to the car rider line,” he said. “He was terrified he’d never see her again. He required counseling.”