Miami resident Lorena Jofre, 35, remembers the day she came out of the shadows.
Jofre moved to the United States in 1992 from Chile when she was 10 years old. She overstayed a student visa, and for years, was afraid to get caught by immigration enforcement officials.
But when President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program through an executive order in 2012, Jofre said she saw her moment to finally live without fear.
“[DACA] was such a peace of mind just in all aspects of life, there really is no word to describe it,” Jofre said. “It changes your life completely.”
That feeling of comfort has subsided for Jofre and many others since the election of President Donald Trump, who has taken a hard line on immigration.
It has spurred Florida-based organizations that provide resources to immigrants living in the United States without proper documentation to step up amid increased fear of what might happen.
“People are clearly and understandably scared, wanting to understand what could happen to them,” said Melissa Taveras, a spokeswoman with The Florida Immigrant Coalition “People are afraid of commuting to work or going to school.”
The Trump administration has already announced that it plans to end DACA, which allows for some young people living in the United States to receive a renewable two-year permit to work and go to school.
Trump has called for a Mexico-United States border wall and his administration has separated families that crossed the Mexico border illegally.
And his travel ban, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, limits immigration from some majority Muslim countries.
Other issues are more local to Florida and less influenced by federal politics. Still, they are affecting immigrants, such as the inability of some in Florida to access Department of Motor Vehicles services.
“We are pushing for undocumented folks to have access to driver’s licenses, understanding how important it is for undocumented people to get to work and to get their childrens to school,” Taveras said. “We have also heard that in some counties even legal permanent residents can’t access certain DMV’s, only U.S. citizens, so if you are a legal permanent resident, you have to go to a designated DMV which may be miles away – there really is no logical explanation other than a continuation of a racist agenda.”
The work is more urgent and groups are trying to cover every corner of the state to get immigrants services, said Adonia Simpson, Americans for Immigrant Justice’s Family Defense Program director.
“We’re traveling as far north as Fort Pierce in St. Lucie, all the way to Southwest Florida like Fort Myers and Naples and down to Monroe to bring immigration legal screenings and services to people to the community,” Simpson said.
The Family Defense Program, a new service added by the nonprofit after the election, according to Simpson, provides community education through ‘Know Your Rights’ presentations, legal screenings and legal representation.
“Just because of the need and the fear we were seeing in the community given changes in policy that came along with the election,” Simpson said. “We were able to increase services and provide a lot more general immigration services.”
Others are also doing their part.
Jofre decided she didn’t want to shrink back into the shadows and volunteers with the Florida Immigrant Coalition and an affiliated organization called Students Working for Equal Rights.
Jofre works for an insurance agency in Miami, and volunteers some of her free time to the two organizations because she wants to stay active.
“I really like action, marching or speaking, any time we reach out to the public because like me, I was scared for so long and I think educating people and teaching them about knowing their rights and to really just not be scared, I think that’s the best way you can help people – to really empower the people,” Jofre said.
Jasiel Lopez, a 24-year-old DACA recipient from Mexico, is also volunteering his time to Florida Immigrant Coalition and Students Working for Equal Rights, after being in fear during the 2016 election.
“What I was really convinced of is that something had to be done, we needed to protect ourselves,” Lopez said. “Right after the election I got in contact with folks who I knew were organizers and I told them what I was thinking, and we hosted a ‘Know Your Rights’ workshop.
Lopez was able to renew his DACA permit with help from Florida Immigrant Coalition which sponsors DACA recipients’ renewal applications.
“That was a big help for me because being in school full-time is a big cost without the financial aid that a U.S. citizen would get, for me I’ve had to work to pay that,” Lopez said. “Not having to pay that $500 renew application was a big help.”
Lopez is a marketing student at Florida International University and he plans to continue being involved in the immigrant rights fight.
“I want to continue being involved in the immigrant rights fight,” Lopez said. “It’s an issue that we haven’t really succeeded in changing, we haven’t had real victories in this fight.”