Mitzia Martinez felt so shellshocked after the presidential election that the 19-year-old UC Berkeley student holed up in her apartment for days, away from her friends and her classes. Martinez needed to make sense of the massive changes her life could face under a Trump administration.
Her biggest concerns: losing the ability to support herself financially and, worse, once again feeling vulnerable to deportation.
During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to abolish Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The policy has allowed Martinez and more than 238,000 undocumented youth in California to work legally and be temporarily protected from deportation. One-third of the nation's DACA recipients live in California.
While some observers doubt that Trump will follow through on all of his campaign promises on immigration, they say his recent nomination of hard-line immigration restrictionists to key posts -- such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general -- suggests that DACA could well be reversed. President Obama created the policy by executive action in 2012, and Trump could undo it on his first day at the White House.
The potential end of DACA is sending waves of fear among undocumented youth on college campuses and beyond. The policy benefits immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, and are currently in school or have a high school diploma, among other requirements.
"My whole life is based around DACA. I have employment, a Social Security number and health insurance because of DACA," said Martinez, a high school valedictorian in San Jose who earned a full scholarship to UC Berkeley. "I don’t know how I’m going to see my life without it."
Martinez, who was born in Mexico, understood that the policy did not provide her with permanent legal residence in the U.S., where she has lived since she was 7. But three years ago she applied anyway, in hopes that the country was becoming more accepting of immigrants.
"It’s like they gave us a little taste of liberty and freedom, and now they are taking it away," said Martinez, while sitting on a bench on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza. "We'll have to adjust to the way that we were before, to living back in the shadows."
Martinez says having the protection of DACA has allowed her to move about openly and finally feel included in the society of the country where she grew up.
Now she worries that in applying for deferred action, she and her 17-year-old brother exposed themselves to immigration authorities and have increased the risk that they could be deported.
"They know where I live, they know who our parents are, whether they are undocumented or not," Martinez said. "The power of that information is insane."
Uncertainty over how the Trump administration will use the DACA database of fingerprints and biographical information has led immigrant advocates across the country to halt their nationwide push encouraging undocumented youth to apply. Now they are giving the opposite message.
"Our recommendation now is that if they are applying for the first time, then maybe don’t do it. They’ve never flagged themselves," said Barbara Pinto, lead immigration attorney for Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland.
Since the election, Centro Legal has been flooded with questions from parents of DACA youth about what will happen to their children, said Pinto.
"There's a lot of fear, a lot of worry in the community," she said.
Gonzalo Ferrer, chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, doesn't expect the Trump administration to make DACA recipients deportation targets. Ferrer believes Trump’s priority is to remove immigrants with criminal backgrounds. Still, he agrees with the president-elect that DACA should be eliminated.
"The problem with the executive action is that it’s clearly unconstitutional. President Obama didn’t have the power to issue that executive action," said Ferrer, an attorney in San Francisco.
Ferrer remains hopeful that there is still bipartisan support for creating a legal path for undocumented young people. But he says it needs to be done through Congress.
For now, a handful of California Democrats in Congress, such as Rep. Judy Chu of Monterey Park, are calling for Obama to do more to protect DACA youth.
"We promised them security. Now they are facing a nightmare," Chu said in a statement. "I call on the administration to consider all options to prevent the use of these names for deportation. ... We must do the right thing today or risk losing the trust of the vulnerable forever.”
In addition, California Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Downey, and Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois 4th District) sent a letter last Thursday to Obama encouraging him to exercise his constitutional authority to pardon the more than 740,000 DACA recipients nationwide.
Meanwhile, Mitzia Martinez, the UC Berkeley pre-law student, is taking action herself. She and other DACA students are building support networks and working to keep their cause in the public eye.
Ramirez and other UC students are also reaching outside the university with community workshops to teach undocumented people about their constitutional rights.
"We are not going to go down without a fight. This is too important for our community," Martinez said. "At the end of the day we’ll be OK. We are not going to let people like Trump take us down."