Unauthorized immigrants in Philadelphia brace for President Trump, vow to fight

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     Gerardo Flores stands in front of his taco truck on Allegheny Avenue in North Philadelphia. Formerly in the country illegally, Flores became a permanent resident in 2016. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

    Gerardo Flores stands in front of his taco truck on Allegheny Avenue in North Philadelphia. Formerly in the country illegally, Flores became a permanent resident in 2016. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

    After winning a stunning upset in the presidential election, Donald Trump is poised to enact at least some of the massive immigration policy reforms central to his campaign.

    Sitting in her brightly painted living room in Northeast Philadelphia, Estela Hernandez said the hardest thing about Donald Trump winning the presidency, so far, was seeing her three children react.

    “The first day, when we woke up and saw he won, my kids’ reaction was despair,” said the mother of three.

    Hernandez is from Mexico and owns her own cleaning business. She also is living here illegally — one of 11 million people Trump promised to deport during his campaign.

    After winning a stunning upset in the presidential election, Trump is poised to enact at least some of the massive immigration policy reforms central to his campaign.

    He has called for deporting two million people who entered the country illegally or stayed here after their visas expired.  He also has said many immigrants are criminals and vowed to cut off funding to “sanctuary cities,” a loose term for places such as Philadelphia with a policy to limit coordination between police and immigration officials.

    Five miles south Hernandez’ house, Gerardo Flores of is dishing out tacos from a small truck on Allegheny Avenue. Flores has lived United States for 30 years — most of that time without authorization. In July 5, 2016, he became a permanent, legal resident.

    Flores said his biggest concern with a Donald Trump presidency is that people without papers who live in dangerous neighborhoods won’t feel comfortable talking to police.

    “We live in communities where there’s a lot of crime. It would be even harder for people to feel safe if they feel like they can’t speak up,” he said.  This concern is one of the main ones cited by city officials for limiting collaboration between officers and immigration.

    That could be the case if Trump makes good on a promise to starve sanctuary cities of federal funds.

    Philadelphia is one such city. Mayor Jim Kenney’s spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said “We are standing behind the current policy,” in an email.

    Myrna Muñoz-Romero, a mother of three, is under order to be deported. She said she came to the United States for her children and has worked in factories and cleaning houses. She said the characterization of immigrants who arrive illegally as criminals is “awful.”

    “There’s the one’s like he’s describing, but that’s not all of us. Most of us come here to work,” she said.

    Olivia Vazquez, an organizer with immigrant rights group JUNTOS and a recipient of DACA, a type of immigration status that protects some people who came to the country as children from deportation.

    “It was passed on executive order and I guess we had always known it was a temporary law,” she said, of the vulnerability of the possiblity of the order being nullified by Trump. “But we also know that our communities will not just sit there and watch it happen.”

    Some immigrants interviewed explicitly said they are afraid – of racism, of their neighborhoods becoming less safe – but few said they had ever faced direct racism or discrimination. All said they are prepared to fight to keep their families safe and to stay in this country.

    “From the very same fear that Donald Trump’s election causes in me, I get a lot of courage,” said Hernandez, has signed up to help recruit and organize unauthorized residents in conjunction with advocacy group New Sanctuary Movement.

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