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With a possible second Trump term looming, some DACA recipients are taking risks

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children are protected from deportation as DACA recipients. But the prospect of a second Trump presidency brings uncertainty to DACA holders. Aspen Public Radio's Halle Zander has more.

HALLE ZANDER, BYLINE: Luz Galaviz is in Salt Lake City's airport, waiting to board her plane to Mexico City.

LUZ GALAVIZ: It is your home. But at the same time, like, it's like a foreign country to you.

ZANDER: Galaviz is an elementary school teacher in Rifle, Colo., and she hasn't been to Mexico, the country where she was born, since she first left 25 years ago. She was 5 years old.

GALAVIZ: I'm visualizing the landing there and just looking at the buildings, the architecture, the people, like we talked about. I really want to just, like, dive into the culture.

ZANDER: DACA recipients aren't allowed to travel abroad. But Galaviz applied and received permission to attend a leadership conference in Mexico. She can do it through a special permit called advance parole. That means the agency that issues green cards and other visas allows her to travel internationally for a set period of time. That allows Galaviz to continue seeking a secure status in the U.S. upon her return.

GALAVIZ: I've seen lawyers in the past just to kind of see, like, where I'm at in the process, and I don't know. It's such a tricky situation. It could be, like, another work visa of another type.

ZANDER: DACA doesn't provide a path to citizenship. However, trips like this can actually help DACA recipients like her get the next best thing. When immigrants cross the border without going through customs and border patrol, they don't have a legal entry on record, which most green card and visa applications require. But with advance parole, travellers go through airports and are interviewed by customs when they return, checking that box. It's a step in the right direction for many, but come November, it may be off the table.

JULIA GELATT: I think if President Trump is reelected, he will try to end the DACA program again.

ZANDER: That's Julia Gelatt of the Migration Policy Institute. She says, in 2017, former President Trump tried to repeal DACA, and advance parole applications weren't granted either. But legal challenges protected the program. Gelatt says, next time, Trump could be more successful since he's likely learned from his previous mistakes.

GELATT: Part of the reason that his move to end DACA was blocked by the courts was that he did it through fast procedures rather than going through a full regulatory process. I anticipate that a future Trump administration might try to end the program in a more durable way.

ZANDER: Gelatt says, a lot of DACA holders will probably try to rush their advance parole applications in the next few months in case Trump takes office again. But advance parole doesn't guarantee someone's return. It's issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. But the agency that inspects travelers at the border is customs, and they ultimately get to decide who can and can't enter the country.

GELATT: So I could imagine that it would be quite scary for somebody to travel abroad on advance parole with DACA in the early days of a Trump administration, not knowing what changes were about to come.

ZANDER: People traveling with advance parole even now go through a lot of anxiety since their return isn't guaranteed. Galaviz went through a wide range of emotions during her trip.

GALAVIZ: And just, like, seeing the people, it made me think about all the reasons why people leave, like, why my parents left.

ZANDER: She made it through customs and got back to the U.S. safely last month. Galaviz laughs easily, but when looking ahead and talking about the upcoming election, she becomes very somber.

GALAVIZ: I'm, like, petrified about what's going to happen.

ZANDER: But Galaviz is accustomed to waiting for election results like this and living her life in the meantime. For NPR News, I'm Halle Zander.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE SKY BLACK DEATH SONG, "AWAY WITH ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Halle Zander