Trump's Promises Of Deportations Create Uncertainty For N.J. Family Desiree Armas is a straight-A high school senior who hopes to go to college. But she and her parents are in the U.S. illegally. They're now in limbo, fearful of what's ahead under the new president.
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Trump's Promises Of Deportations Create Uncertainty For N.J. Family

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Trump's Promises Of Deportations Create Uncertainty For N.J. Family

Trump's Promises Of Deportations Create Uncertainty For N.J. Family

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Donald Trump has taken aim at the intelligence community. He's also targeted immigrants. Protesters are going to converge on Washington D.C. this weekend for a rally about immigrants' rights. Trump has pledged to deport millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, and that's created in uncertainty for thousands of families. We'll hear from one of those families today and again over the coming weeks as part of our Kitchen Table Conversations series. NPR's Joel Rose has their story.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: In some ways, Desiree Armas is your typical high-school senior. She's getting ready to take the test for her driver's license. And she's applying to colleges.

DESIREE ARMAS: I do have my sights set on Yale, on, you know, engineering. It's just a dream. But I do like the school.

ROSE: But Desiree has a big secret. She rides the bus an hour each way to a magnet school miles away from her family's apartment. And her friends don't know that Desiree and her parents are living in the country illegally.

D. ARMAS: Only my best friend knows. No one else in school - and besides my counselors. Yeah. That's something I don't tell anyone because...

ROSE: Why?

D. ARMAS: ...You never know.

ROSE: Desiree left Peru with her parents when she was 3. Today, the family lives in a small, tidy apartment in working-class Elizabeth, N.J.

OLGA ARMAS: (Speaking Spanish). Recipe is my grandmother's.

ROSE: Desiree's mother, Olga Armas, is a gracious host, quick to offer hot chocolate. Olga says the family first arrived in the U.S. in 2002 and stayed to seek a better future for their daughter.

O. ARMAS: (Through interpreter) The beginning was very hard. It was difficult to come. We arrived here with nothing to a lot of uncertainty - no pans and pots or even a spoon.

ROSE: In Peru, Olga's college-educated husband, Carlos, had a white-collar job for an airline. In New Jersey, he gets up at 4 in the morning to load pallets at a paper warehouse. When his parents died, Carlos couldn't go back for their funerals.

CARLOS ARMAS: (Speaking Spanish).

ROSE: "I withstood that," Carlos says, "because I wanted my daughters to stay in school and my family to stay together here - that they continue to study."

Desiree is a straight-A student. So the family was thrilled when President Obama introduced a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, allowing immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as kids to work and attend college. Olga says as soon as Desiree was old enough to apply, the whole family went to the lawyer's office together to fill out the paperwork.

O. ARMAS: (Through interpreter) My daughter was so happy, she cried. We cried because my daughter will come out of the dark. She'll be able to continue studying. We always worried, how will Desiree stay in school? I'm always worried about that because she's always liked school.

ROSE: Desiree says getting DACA made a huge difference. Her younger sister Kimberly, who was born in Florida, is a citizen. And Desiree admits she's a little jealous.

D. ARMAS: I see my sister's passport. And, like, I don't know. Something about it just gets me all, like, sappy - I don't know for some reason - that I can't have one. But when I got my Social Security, it felt, like, so official. Like, I was way more positive. I was more hopeful.

ROSE: But Desiree's hopes may have suffered a setback on election night. President-elect Trump has pledged to deport millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, although he has also said he doesn't want to break up families. And Trump has committed to rolling back President Obama's immigration policies, including DACA. Olga Armas says, once again, her family is facing an uncertain future.

O. ARMAS: (Through interpreter) Yes. The truth is people are in limbo. We don't know what will come from Trump's words. But everybody's talking about it. There's lots of fear.

ROSE: For Olga, the fear is that what her family has gained could all go away. She's volunteering with an immigrant activist group. And the whole family is traveling to Washington this weekend to protest for immigrants' rights. Without DACA, Desiree can still get accepted to college. But losing her status would make it hard to find money for school or to work, once she gets there. She says kids with DACA want the same thing Immigrants to this country have always wanted.

D. ARMAS: What you have now - you know, your parents had to fight for it. And that's what our parents are doing. That's what we're doing. Not just me - just so many other students that are hard-working - and that we deserve a chance to show what we've got. And, you know, if you take that away from us, you probably will yank the dreams of, you know, future doctors and engineers and lawyers.

ROSE: So Desiree Armas is anxiously watching her mailbox for two reasons, acceptance letters from the colleges she's applied to and news about her future in this country. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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