A student at Wake Forest University has called North Carolina home since she was 7 years old, when her mother brought her into the United States without authorization.
“Maybe to some people I’m not supposed to be here, but I have built a life here.
“This is my home. I count,” she said.
The student, who attends Wake Forest on private scholarships and does not take public money to pay for tuition, asked not to be identified because she is afraid that actions taken this week on illegal immigration by President Donald Trump could eventually affect her.
She qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a temporary shield from deportation started in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama for certain younger immigrants without serious criminal records. But, she said, it appears that everything for which she has worked hard could be uprooted at any time by the stroke of a pen in the White House.
“OK. You’ve got to go,” she said, expressing what she fears she may hear one day from federal immigration authorities.
There are about 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, and the political response to that reality has long divided Washington.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., is working to find bipartisan support for various pieces of legislation aimed at dealing with the immigration issues, the Winston-Salem Journal has reported. The starting point: Secure the border and deport unauthorized immigrants with serious criminal records.
Trump, following through on a campaign promise, signed executive orders this week pushing for a wall to be built between Mexico and the United States — and telling federal immigration agencies to treat a much wider group of immigrants living in the U.S. without permission as high priorities for deportation.
Under President Barack Obama, unauthorized immigrants with serious criminal records were assigned high priority.
Under Trump, a high priority for deportation has been extended to unauthorized immigrants who have been “charged with a crime even if the charge has not been resolved” or who have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
One of the executive orders, titled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, gives U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement almost unfettered power to stop and detain individuals they believe might be unauthorized immigrants and might be criminals, said Helen Parsonage, a Winston-Salem immigration lawyer.
“This power won’t just impact our immigrant communities but any one of us,” Parsonage said.
“If law enforcement has a reasonable suspicion that there is criminal activity, they can stop someone. If they have probable cause to believe that person committed a crime, they can arrest and charge them. Then it must be proven in court. Once we start to erode that process in one way, it’s easier to erode it further,” she said.
Trump has not issued an executive order specifically dismantling DACA, as he said he would do while campaigning for the presidency, but the Wake Forest student indicated that she still wonders whether she could be targeted as well.
“It’s scary,” she said.
Trump was not promoting an entirely new idea when he signed an executive order seeking to build a wall between Mexico and the United States.
President George W. Bush signed a $1.2 billion bill — the Secure Fence Act — that Congress passed in 2006 with bipartisan support, including votes of support from then-Democratic U.S. Reps. Bob Etheridge, Mike McIntyre and Brad Miller of North Carolina.
Another notable supporting Democrat: then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton.
The Secure Fence Act did not call for a huge wall along the entire border, but the bill did aim to have the same effect as a wall. Under the bill, the $1.2 billion was set aside to pay for at least 700 miles of barriers along the border.
Other approved measures included checkpoints, vehicle barriers, cameras and surveillance drones.
Supporters of the bill said that it would help thwart illegal immigration and drug trafficking while critics said it would be ineffective because, in their view, people would just find another way to enter the United States.
“You’re using an atomic bomb to get rid of an ant,” said Peter Siavelis, a professor at Wake Forest University’s department of politics and international affairs.
“What’s important for him (Trump) is not building a 40-foot wall — it’s to make people think he’s doing something. This is political messaging to his base,” Siavelis said.
Attempts in Congress to find money to finish the 2006 fence have died.
Now, the renewed call by Trump to build a wall would extend what was started in 2006.
The cost for the wall falls in the range of $8 billion to $14 billion, and some estimates have put the cost as high as $25 billion. As a comparison, the fiscal-year 2016 budget for U.S. Customs and Border Protection was about $13.3 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that Trump would ask Congress to impose a 20 percent tariff on goods coming in from Mexico to pay for the wall, but he walked back that proposal within hours.
It’s unclear how members of Congress will respond to Trump’s request for a wall or how they will pay for it.
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Banner Elk Republican whose 5th Congressional District includes Winston-Salem, voted for the Secure Fence Act in 2006, her freshman term. For years, she has said that illegal immigration poses a national security issue.
She and other Republicans who voted for the 2006 bill did not express opposition toward Trump’s wall initiative but their comments suggested that the “wall” and its cost will be subject to negotiation as Congress discusses ways to pay.
“She is hopeful that any supplemental funds will be used to stop illegal crossings — whether through the construction of a physical wall or by using other means to patrol the border,” Foxx spokeswoman Sheridan Watson said. “She will examine closely any legislative text that proposes spending additional taxpayer funds in pursuit of this goal.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, also voted for the Secure Fence Act.
“Sen. Burr has long supported a more secure border and believes our immigration system needs an overhaul,” Burr spokeswoman Taylor Holgate said.
Jack Minor, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-6th, said that any cost for a wall would have to be offset.
“That’s where we’ll draw the line. It will matter how it’s paid for,” Minor said.