After President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, a cousin approached Nanette Barragán and asked her if it was safe to apply.
Barragán remembers telling the young woman, “When the government tells you that your information is not going to be used against you, you take the government at their word.”
Her answer to that relative five years ago weighs heavily on the freshman congresswoman today as the nation awaits President Trump’s decision on whether he’ll allow the program to continue.
“Before the message was: If you are good, if you are under the radar, you are paying your taxes … if you are a good person, they are not going to come after you,” Barragán told The Times. “Who would have imagined that you would have Donald Trump be the president."
Barragán (D-San Pedro) wouldn’t give further details about or name her cousin, who lives in Texas and is in her twenties, out of fear the girl would be targeted for deportation.
Trump is expected to announce Tuesday the future of the DACA program, which grants temporary deportation reprieves to about 800,000 people brought to the country illegally as children. One-fourth of the program’s recipients, 200,000 people, are thought to live in California.
For a handful of this state’s members of Congress, there is an added personal connection to the flood of terrified calls and emails from constituents worried about what’s to come. Several of them are immigrants or first-generation Americans themselves. Some, like Rep. Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles, have had undocumented family members become U.S. citizens. Others currently have family and friends in the country illegally.
Recipients of DACA came forward and underwent background checks, handed over personal data and even their fingerprints. In exchange they got assurances they wouldn't be deported for two years if they follow the law and are working, enrolled in school or serving in the military.
In parts of her southern Los Angeles congressional district, Barragán is introduced just as congresista. The district, which includes parts of Carson, Compton and San Pedro, is 68% Latino. Her own mother, now a U.S. citizen, has asked the congresswoman if she should carry her paperwork when she leaves the house.
Using the U.S. census’ count, all congressional districts are drawn every 10 years so that they’ll include roughly the same number of people: 700,000. The census doesn’t ask about legal status. That means that in some districts, especially in the Los Angeles area, a sizable population of constituents are in the country illegally.
Rep. Lou Correa of Santa Ana considers them all Californians, even if they aren’t Americans. Each of the freshman Democrat’s town halls this year in his Orange County district have focused on immigration and the rights people have in the current political climate. His district includes Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana and is 67% Latino.
When he imagines Trump ending the program, he thinks of his 16-year-old daughter’s friends who could be affected.
“They are good, lively kids and right now they are scared to death,” he said.
His daughter has brought friends home to meet him. They ask the congressman, desperately, what they should do, he said. He said he feels a weight of responsibility for them on his shoulders.
“I told them that they needed to pursue their education,” Correa said. “I told them, ‘Let me fight the fight for you in Washington. That’s my job. Let me do that, I want you to focus on education, I need you to study hard.’”
Ahead of Trump’s announcement, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) is checking in with two former interns, DACA recipients who applied for the program with help from her staff. Her district is 27% Latino and 37% Asian.
Both of the interns struggled to pay for college before Obama created the program, she said, but now they have earned their degrees from state schools and have full-time jobs in the community. One is about to start law school at UCLA and is worried about what will happen if the program ends, Chu said.
"Look at how much these young people have contributed to society,” Chu said. “It just would be a tragedy beyond compare if these young people were deported. They are the ones who can be the leaders of tomorrow and can shape America to be a better place.”
There are similar stories in the Central Valley, with high populations of immigrants, both with and without papers.
The biggest difference is that two members of Congress from that region, Reps. David Valadao of Hanford and Jeff Denham of Turlock, are Republicans. They have joined just a handful in their party to call for an immigration solution that doesn’t end DACA.
Valadao and Denham were among 10 House Republicans who signed a letter to Ryan, emphasizing that Congress must find a solution.
"We did not support the way that President Obama established this program and usurped Congressional law making authority. However, these individuals have come forward and provided the federal government with their personal information and biometrics. It would be wrong to go back on our word and subject these individuals to deportation," the Republicans' letter states. "These individuals' status in the United States should not be left to the political winds of different administrations that come to power."
Denham and Valadao represent districts with large Latino populations and are among the Republicans that Democrats want to oust from office in 2018 as they attempt to win back control of the House. The congressmen also sent a letter to Trump recently requesting he keep the program in place, and are co-sponsors of legislation aimed at finding a fix.
Ryan told radio station WCLO in Janesville, Wis., his hometown, on Friday that he didn't think Trump should end DACA and that a legislative solution is needed.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco sent her own letter to Ryan on Friday, calling his remarks "heartening" and asking him to meet with House Democrats and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about possible legislation when Congress returns next week from the August recess.
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Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics