Akieal Williams, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago who lives in Long Branch, is concerned that President Donald J. Trump’s stance on immigration could harm the community he lives in and enjoys.
Recently laid off and on the search for a job and a solution to gang activity, Williams was shocked to learn at a meeting of Our Voices Matter that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs could potentially end soon.
Several Republican politicians wrote to Trump this summer calling for him to end DACA by Sept. 5, inspiring anxiety in local immigrant communities.
“They don’t know where to go. They’re scared,” said John Angel, a Long Branch business owner. “What are we going to do?” he said about what people have been asking.
Long Branch is a neighborhood largely made up of immigrants, and many at the OVM meeting believe that a lack of education and opportunities for immigrants is to blame for crime in the area. Williams is scared that a further loss of job opportunities from the discontinuation of DACA and TPS will exacerbate the problem.
“It could spike crime and the gang activity,” he said. “They weren’t aware of it, and they couldn’t prepare. Now they’re going to go out and start robbing.”
CASA, an influential immigration advocacy-and-assistance organization in Montgomery County, hopes to put pressure on local and federal officials to renew the programs, although they expect it’s more likely that businesses could be hurt rather than a spike in crime.
“Well, close to a million young people are going to basically go from contributing to society, working, studying, being part of everyday life to being completely in the shadows,” said CASA communications manager Fernanda Durand. “We have so many children who came here with their parents, and they fit that description.”
“I think people who are hardworking people are not going to turn to crime,” she added. “But there will be a huge toll on the economy.”
According to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration report on the Number of Form I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, by Fiscal Year, Quarter, Intake, Biometrics and Case Status Fiscal Year 2012-2017 (March 31), 20,000 applications for DACA in Maryland had been approved by March 31.
Williams, by the end of the meeting, was in low spirits.
“It’s sad how they treat immigrants around here, man. Really sad,” he said.
After hearing about the potential loss of DACA and TPS programs in Montgomery County, he elaborated on the difficulty of finding a job as an immigrant.
“Some of us you know when we come here it’s too late for us, you know, to go to school, we got to find some place to settle in, and we don’t have the paperwork, some us don’t have the education or background, so it’s difficult depending on what field of work you’re looking to get into.”
More than just issues that Williams faces as an immigrant, OVM faces issues with helping local immigrants advocate for themselves even now as they plan to focus on the issue of DACA renewal.
“I had passed the message along to a lot of people, majority of them immigrants,” said Williams. When I came in here I was surprised. There’s only a handful of people from the first time. They are scared to attend stuff like this because, you know, being deported.”
“It’s tricky. You have to have something people will show up for. Have to have something very important for them to show up,” said John Angel, a business owner in the Long Branch area.
At the end of OVM meetings, the interns who lead the group ask when a good time for the next meeting is. Williams took out his phone to look at his calendar for September. He has no events scheduled.
“Right now it’s just voluntary work I do, so that’s why whenever you all [ask] ‘Oh, could we meet?,’ it’s fine with me.”