Undocumented and legal immigrants prepare for ‘new normal’ in Texas

Immigration documents (KXAN photo)
Immigration documents (KXAN photo)

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — The state’s new law on immigration enforcement is prompting immigrants, living in Texas legally and illegally, to prepare for a “new normal.”

Dozens of people gathered at Austin Community College for a free workshop Tuesday to learn what to expect if they are stopped by police.

Organizers say even more people tuned in online to watch the workshop live—unwilling to show up in person.

“It’s a state of fear,” said Estafania Ponce, a student at ACC.

She was 5 years old when her parents left Mexico in search of safety and now she feels more out of place than when she first arrived in Texas 16 years ago.

“Some people are afraid to go out to the store to go buy groceries just because they’re afraid they might get pulled over,” said Ponce.

The law, set to begin on Sept. 1, allows local law enforcement officers, including campus police, to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest.

The interim chief of the Austin Police Department, Brain Manley, told the crowd at ACC that he sees a loophole in the law: officers can question a person’s immigration status but people don’t have to answer.

Manley explained, “On a routine detention, on like a traffic stop, there is no language in the law that requires an answer.”

Senate Bill 4 also requires local jails to hold alleged criminals in the country illegally for possible deportation.

Known as the sanctuary city ban, SB 4 supporters say the law will improve safety across the state.

Ponce said, “To be someone who comes to this country to seek safety and to see your parents in fear for you or for themselves, that’s not okay.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, shields Ponce from deportation.

That’s a renewable work permit many of her relatives don’t qualify for.

Now 21, she’s working with advocacy groups helping more undocumented students apply for DACA.

President Donald Trump has not followed through on his campaign promise to repeal DACA on his first day in office.

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security announced the DACA recipients will continue to be eligible to renew work permits every two years. However, the long-term future of the Obama-era program remains unclear.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Department of Justice for its views on whether DACA recipients are in the U.S. legally.

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