Sophia studied for her nursing board exam all summer long.

After graduating from college in May, the 23-year-old woman returned to her family’s home in Maine. Her summer days were dominated by a prep course and practice tests. A passing score on her licensing exam would mean she could add “R.N.” to her name and begin a yearlong fellowship in pediatric nursing.

She was less than a week from the exam when an alert on her cellphone delivered news that could negate all her hard work. “It was the last thing that I wanted to hear,” Sophia said.

That news alert told her President Trump was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The program allowed young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to live and work here without fear of punishment.

For Sophia, who registered for DACA when she was 18, it meant she could get a driver’s license and work summer jobs. And it meant she could become a nurse as she had dreamed for years. On the other hand, the end of the program could mean she would instead be at risk of being arrested and deported.

Sophia’s parents moved to the United States from their native country in the West Indies when she was 6 years old.

They had good jobs in their home country, but her father wanted to pursue work as a Christian youth minister. He had previously traveled to the United States with a church organization, and when he got a full-time job offer, the family decided to take it.

Her father’s employer promised to help him obtain a green card, which would allow the family to permanently and legally settle in the United States. So he got a religious worker visa that would expire in three years. His wife and Sophia came with him on temporary visas. The family settled in Maine, where their second daughter was born.

But, by the time Sophia was 9, her father’s sponsor had backed out. Sophia’s sister is an American citizen because she was born in the United States, but the visas for the rest of the family expired. They visited one lawyer after another, but the three of them became undocumented immigrants at risk of being detained and even deported.


Childhood arrivals

Nearly 800,000 foreign-born students and workers brought to the U.S. illegally as children have enrolled in a federal program that protects them from deportation. President Trump has decided to rescind the program in March, although Congress could pass a law extending protection. Here is a look at where participants live:

Top 5 states of residency

State
Residents
California
223,749
Texas
124,744
Illinois
42,537
New York
42,503
Florida
33,207

“Sometimes there were moments when we thought we wouldn’t live through it,” her father said. “I remember days when I would just walk and cry, saying, ‘What’s the next move?’ “

Sophia spoke with the Portland Press Herald under the condition that she and her family members not be identified because they fear being discovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Growing up, Sophia remembers stress and confusion in her family’s home. Only as she got older did she realize why.

Her memories of her first country are the sensory impressions of childhood – the sound of rain on a tin roof and the bright colors of the cherry tree in her grandparents’ backyard. But, without legal immigration status, the family couldn’t visit the West Indies, not even when Sophia’s grandparents died.

In high school, Sophia watched all of her classmates get driver’s licenses. She told most people her family couldn’t afford the required course. But only her closest friends knew she couldn’t apply for a license at the DMV because she couldn’t present a Social Security card or U.S. passport or even a valid visa. When those classmates took a school trip, she stayed home on the pretense of college visits. In reality, her parents were afraid she would be detained at the airport.

When Sophia was a young girl, she broke her finger. The staff at the hospital made her laugh despite the pain, and she has wanted to be a nurse ever since.

As an undocumented student, she could not apply for federal student loans or legally work to pay for a bachelor’s degree. She decided to attend a small out-of-state private college where she could at least qualify for scholarships. The school was welcoming, but an admissions councilor told Sophia’s mother that she would never be able to take the nurse licensing board exam as an undocumented immigrant.

“It was like, God, why is this happening?” Sophia said. “I can’t do certain things, but then what can’t I do down the line? What’s going to happen to college?”

Sophia has a smile that fills her face. The more she learned about her family’s story, however, the more anger she felt toward the people who had lied to her parents.

“That was the hardest thing for me to accept,” Sophia said. “My parents are who I aspire to be. I had so much anger toward whoever did that.”

Her parents tried to shield their children from their fear and pain. But they struggled, too.

“It taught me not to really trust in human beings when they give you their word,” her father said. “Not all human beings are like, I’ll stand by my word to you.”

But they didn’t abandon their faith.

“We saw a lot of miracles on the way and got past the anger of it all,” her mother said. “We have a strong Christian faith, so we just know that God is in control.”

One of those miracles came on a summer day before Sophia’s freshman year of college. Her mother’s phone rang nonstop with calls from relatives and friends. President Obama had just signed an executive order to establish DACA. Sophia would be eligible.

“It was like a prayer,” her mother said.

President Trump and others who want to end DACA argue Obama lacked authority to create the program and that it encourages more illegal immigration. Supporters of DACA argue immigrants brought here as young children through no fault of their own should not be kicked out of the only country they know.


DACA participants in New England

State
Residents
Massachusetts
8,053
Connecticut
4,989
Rhode Island
1,248
New Hampshire
374
Maine
98
Vermont
44

The staff at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland helped Sophia apply for DACA. Family friends helped pay the fees on her application – nearly $500. Her mother dug out the plane ticket that brought Sophia to the United States, school report cards and other records. Sophia submitted her fingerprints to the U.S. government and passed a background check.

At the end of her freshman year of college, Sophia found out she was approved. Her work permit arrived days before she started the summer camp job she needed to pay tuition. She finally got her driver’s license. In a few years, she could present a legal ID to take the nursing licensing exam. She could accept the post-grad fellowship of her dreams.

“After that, I’ve been able to work in town and now get my nursing degree,” Sophia said. “It’s been life changing. It helped a lot with my family and for me to have the basic opportunities that a lot of Americans have that they sometimes take for granted.”

Top 5 countries of birth for DACA participants (nationwide)

Country
Residents
Mexico
622,743
El Salvador
28,571
Guatemala
20,000
Honduras
18,385
Peru
9,102


DACA recipients still do not qualify for federal student loans. Scholarships helped, and her parents work despite being undocumented. But Sophia’s family still struggled to afford her education. She took a semester off to work and save money. As an upperclassman, she worked for her dorm in order to live on campus. Without the work permit she received through DACA, she would not have been able to pay for college.

“I know down to the decimal point how much tuition is,” she said.

This spring, Sophia graduated cum laude. Her family, including relatives from her native country, traveled to her graduation. Her father cried tears of joy.

“Just to graduate from college has been such a big thing, which wouldn’t be a thing without DACA,” Sophia said.

Sophia came home for the summer to study for the nursing licensing exam. She and her mother talked about a trip to Bar Harbor. She went to church on Saturdays. She passed her exam. She tried to keep up with the ever-changing news on DACA but also not be overwhelmed with worry.

“I remember at first being worried, disappointed, stressed about it, trying to tell myself, ‘It’s OK. Don’t freak out. God’s going to work it out,’ ” she said.

Sophia has applied for renewal under DACA every two years as required, and her current work permit expires in 2019. Without a replacement for DACA, she and other young immigrants will again be unable to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation.

“These are people who are professionals, who are out there trying to do better for the country,” Sophia said. “We paid you your money. We gave you our forms. We did want you wanted. We didn’t do anything bad. We went to school. We fought our way through. And now it’s like, why do you take that away?”

She left Maine for her fellowship as lawmakers scrambled to find a legislative alternative for DACA in the six-month time period set by Trump.

“I’m going into a profession where I’m helping children, and even if that’s a year, I’m going to love that,” she said. “I’m going to put my whole heart into it.”


WHAT IS DACA?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was created in 2012 in an executive order by former President Obama. It granted immigrants living in the United States illegally since they were children the permission to live and work here without punishment.

The young adults who are protected by DACA are sometimes called “dreamers.” This term comes from the proposed DREAM Act, which offered legal status to undocumented immigrants brought here illegally by their parents. That act was first introduced in 2001 and has repeatedly stalled in Congress. The Obama administration crafted DACA as a temporary order, hoping that lawmakers would eventually pass more permanent and sweeping immigration changes.

What does it mean to be granted protection under DACA?

The policy defers the deportation of young immigrants. Once registered under DACA, they can legally get jobs in the United States with two-year, renewable work permits. They can also request Social Security numbers, get driver’s licenses and enroll in college, though DACA-registered students are not eligible for federal financial aid.

How did people who qualify for DACA get here?

In many cases, people who qualify for DACA were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. In some cases, their families came to the United States legally but did not leave when their visas expired.

Who is eligible for DACA?

Young adults who are eligible for DACA came to the United States before their 16th birthday and have lived here continuously since 2007. They must have been younger than 31 and lacked legal status when the policy was adopted in 2012. Applicants are required to be students, have a high school diploma or a GED certificate or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard or armed forces. They must not have a criminal record or pose a threat to national security or public safety.

What is the application process like?

Filing for DACA for the first time requires a host of supporting documents. These might include IDs, travel documents, school records, hospital and medical records, tax receipts and other financial documents. Applicants must also pass a background check and be fingerprinted.

Once approved, DACA recipients must request a renewal every two years. They must refile the application forms and submit any new documents about removal proceedings or criminal history. Immigration officials might request other documents as well.

Can people protected under DACA work?

Yes. Young adults who have received DACA status have two-year work permits. They also pay income taxes.

Can people who registered for DACA become U.S. citizens?

No. DACA is still not lawful status, and it doesn’t give registrants a path to citizenship or even legal permanent residency.

How many people seek protection under DACA?

More than 936,300 people have submitted initial requests for DACA since 2012. Fewer than 50,000 requests have been rejected before processing.

How many people are granted protection under DACA each year, and how many are denied?

As of March 31, the number of people granted protection under DACA was 787,580. The number of denials was 67,867 – less than 8 percent of all requests. There are currently more than 34,000 pending initial applications.

Where do the people who were granted DACA live? Where are they from?

The majority of DACA applicants were born in Mexico. Many others are from Latin American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But thousands of other applicants are from other parts of the world, including South Korea, India and Pakistan.

Nearly half of the people who have received DACA status live in California, Texas or New York. In Maine, 95 people have received work authorization through DACA, although an unknown additional number of participants attend colleges in Maine.

What will happen to DACA next?

On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration would rescind DACA, calling it an unconstitutional abuse of executive power. The president called on Congress to find a legislative solution for the young immigrants who are currently protected by the program. No work permits will be revoked for at least six months to give lawmakers time to act.

What does that mean for people who are currently eligible for or protected under DACA?

No new applications for DACA will be accepted going forward, according to a memorandum from Homeland Security’s acting secretary, Elaine Duke. Pending applications for initial approval and renewal will be reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis. There were more than 106,000 requests – 34,000 initial and 71,000 renewal – pending as of Aug. 20.

People who have work permits through DACA will be able to stay in the United States until those permits expire or are revoked. Those who have permits expiring before March 5, 2018, can apply for a two-year renewal.

The DACA application requires personal information such as address, travel history and school records. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said information from DACA requests will not be proactively provided to immigration agencies, but it is still unclear how the end of the program would affect law enforcement. Without DACA protection, its recipients could be vulnerable to deportation.


ABOUT THE WEST INDIES

The West Indies is a group of islands – including many that are lush, green mountaintops rising out of the sea – that extend more than 2,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico near the southern tip of Florida through the Caribbean Sea to the northern tip of South America. The region includes Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands and Trinidad and Tobago.

Most of the population is descended from African slaves or from Spanish, French, British or Dutch colonists. Residents speak Spanish and French and a number of Creole languages that evolved from a mixture of European languages.

The traditional industries in the region were based on agriculture, with crops that include bananas, citrus and sugar. Tourism is now the major industry on many of the islands.

Economic and political conditions vary widely. But the islands share a common Caribbean culture, which is a combination of African, American Indian, European and Asian influences.

Cultural reference: Each island presents a distinct personality to Americans, who variously vacation, volunteer or trace their ancestry to the region. And, of course, there are pirate stories.