What if President Trump kept talking about you? There are the 280-character bursts that equate undocumented immigrants to criminals storming the border. The repeated calls to build walls to keep immigrants out. And tweetstorms that treat DACA like a deal to be bartered and not a lifeline protecting more than half a million young people from deportation.
“It’s just so volatile,” said Jin Park, a 22-year-old senior at Harvard University who was brought to the country as a child but now has legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program created by President Obama that Trump has sought to end. “In the beginning, I consistently went on Twitter and read everything that the president tweeted out. It weighed on me. What the president says matters.”
On Easter morning, Trump began a series of tweets about DACA, border security, and the country’s immigration laws, and there has been at least one nearly every day since, though he has been tweeting about immigration since before taking office.
But young immigrants said they don’t see themselves in many of the tweets, which equate immigration with criminality one day and express sympathy for DACA recipients who have been “abandoned” and received “very unfair” treatment in another.
It’s as if, they say, their academic accomplishments, hard work, and individual stories mean little. Instead, they are reduced to stereotypes in the immigration debate that is playing out on social media. The declarations of support are even more confusing, they say, because it was Trump who seeks to end the program that shields them from deportation.
And so each news alert or iPhone notification about the president’s ever-changing immigration agenda can be panic-inducing.
“Every week it’s a roller coaster in terms of what’s going on with the whole immigration landscape,” said Reina Guevara, a 27-year-old DACA recipient and junior at the University of Massachusetts Boston who is from El Salvador.
Easter morning, one tweet said, “These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!” (In fact, new arrivals are not eligible for DACA.)
Another tweet read in part: “Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”
And a Wednesday morning tweet: “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico & Canada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW! The Democrats stand in our way — they want people to pour into our country unchecked....CRIME! We will be taking strong action today.”
“It’s just too much,” said Park, who came to the country with his parents from South Korea on tourist visas when he was 7. “Psychologically, I had to find some way to mentally disassociate myself from the rhetoric on Donald Trump’s Twitter.”
But being apolitical and checking out completely is not an option, either.
“I think it’s very important for us to know what’s going on,” said Allie Rojas, 22, a political science major at UMass Boston who emigrated from Mexico with her mother and sister at 4. “But I refuse to follow him on Twitter.”
A news alert told Palloma Jovita, 22, about Trump’s “NO MORE DACA DEAL” tweet.
When she saw it?
“I froze because that affects my whole life,” said the senior at Framingham State University, who emigrated from Brazil with her parents and older sister in 2001 and is a DACA recipient.
Then she went to Trump’s Twitter account and read the president’s tweets and the responses to them, “which I shouldn’t do because people are ruthless,” she said. “There are these crazy comments about us. It’s so hurtful. It makes me fear sometimes that people hate me just because I’m a Dreamer. They don’t know me. They don’t know my background, my story, or how hard I’ve worked.”
And misconceptions about immigrants are what bother Jovita most, she said. Trump’s tweets and rhetoric, she said, “give people the wrong idea of what DACA is, and, unfortunately, immigrants, too.”
People work hard to make lives in America, said Karla Morales, 20, a student at UMass Boston with dreams of becoming a doctor. She emigrated from El Salvador at 3 with her family. Her mother was an attorney and her father an architect, but they started over and he washed dishes while her mother made piñatas. Then they established themselves, buying not one but two homes in the United States.
“For him to just walk in and want to throw that all away is just inhumane,” she said.
The security that once came with knowing they could live and work legally in the United States disappeared for many once the Trump administration began ending programs that have protected hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation for decades.
Immigration authorities stopped accepting applications for DACA in September, when the Trump administration announced it would phase out the program, which is only applicable to immigrants if they have lived in the country since June 2007. Several legislative solutions have been proposed and rejected, mostly by the White House, because they don’t satisfy other parts of the administration’s immigration agenda.
Trump also rescinded Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Central America and Haiti. And he recently ended a special legal status for Liberian immigrants.
“It’s something that we deal with every day,” said Elias Rosenfeld, a Brandeis University sophomore, who immigrated to Florida from Venezuela with his mother and older sister when he was 6 years old. “It’s frightening.”
Weeks ago, he said, Trump was optimistic about the ability to negotiate immigration reform legislation with Congress.
“We are going to deal with DACA with heart,” Trump said in February, according to a White House transcript. “I love these kids.”
“DACA is dead,” Trump tweeted on April 2.
“It changes every single day,” Rosenfeld said. “The first thing I do when I wake up is search ‘DACA’ on Twitter or on Google. People say you have to shut it off. I haven’t been able to do that, sadly. I get more anxiety without knowing.”
The constant back and forth “makes it feel like it’s this sort of a game” that you have to keep watching for updates, said Guevara, who has two little sisters. Her DACA status expires in 2019, which is when her mother’s TPS protection ends.
“Our lives are not being taken seriously,” she said. “There are days that you really don’t want to open your phone and figure out what’s happening with DACA or the whole immigration debate.”
Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.