Adult students at the Kingsbridge Heights Center began their English for Speakers of Other Languages class under the Obama administration and ended the course under President Trump.
Two different presidents, two different outlooks of how America’s immigration policy should take shape.
And for Martinez, an undocumented immigrant looking to make a new life in the country, it’s not for the better.
“With this president, things are getting worse,” said Martinez, who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years. The Riverdale Press is withholding the full name of Martinez and others in this story because of his immigration status.
“The way he talks about immigrants, it just divides the community” between who is documented and who is not.
Jesika Reyes, who is documented, agrees. Although her everyday life has not changed under Trump’s policies, she has experienced tension in the immigrant community. She recalls an argument she witnessed between a Dominican Republic and Mexican immigrant, where one taunted the other about not having paperwork to prove he was in the United States legally.
But it’s not just the legal issues, it’s the economic.
“We miss a lot of opportunities to make more money,” Martinez said. “So, I have to stay where I am.”
Martinez works as a food runner for a restaurant, delivering meals to customers. Learning stronger English speaking and comprehension skills could lead to better-paying jobs and more opportunities, he said. However, getting work may prove difficult since employers generally require Social Security numbers from workers.
To date, Martinez has not witnessed any raids by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division. But he wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually did.
“I am trying to be calm,” said Taveras, another undocumented immigrant who has been in New York for more than three years. “I don’t want to be afraid.”
Taveras came to the United States from the Dominican Republic because the educational system is better for her son. Right now, however, she doesn’t work. Her husband, who is documented, supports the family.
“When I arrived here, my life changed totally,” said Jimenez, a documented immigrant from the Dominican Republic. In the United States just eight months, she lives with her father and other family members and is adjusting to living with new people.
Jimenez plans to attend college in the fall to study architecture or engineering, but needs to improve her English before she begins school.
Cagney JeanBaptiste, who teaches the intermediate class of 25 students, said she experienced a dip in attendance after Trump began enacting his immigration policy in her beginner English class. The number, however, rebounded later in the semester.
“I just explained to the students, if anything, they should want to come to class in case they are encountered with an ICE agent or in some type of legal troubles,” JeanBaptiste said. “They should return to classes so they can defend themselves properly, if in the event that happens. That encouraged them to return to class. And, also really just assuring them that they would not be detained by coming here.”
There is an upside: The political climate appeared to have given JeanBaptiste’s students additional motivation to become fluent in the language.
“This group and my other group also are more nervous, or maybe they feel more pressure to improve their English language skills because of a threat of their status being revoked in some way, shape or form,” she said.
When it comes to removal operations of illegal immigrants, there hasn’t been much change between the two administrations, according to data provided by ICE. Between Jan. 20 and April 29 under Trump, 531 convicted criminals were arrested as well as 156 non-criminals in New York City. That’s up 19 percent for convicted criminals, but double the detention of non-criminal immigrants compared to Obama’s last year in office.
While Trump’s policies have caused a rift in the community and there are some who are breaking the law, “not all immigrants are bad,” Martin said.
“They work hard.”