The fears of the undocumented in the time of Trump

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Los Angeles (AFP) - When would-be immigrants Bernardino and Samuel got word in Mexico of the election of Donald Trump, they immediately gave up their plans to cross illegally into the United States.

The rhetoric that originally fueled the billionaire populist's rise to power was built around his ambitious promises to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US and to build a "big, beautiful, powerful wall" along the border with Mexico.

Now, with the New York Republican's stunning victory Tuesday, fear and uncertainty are surging among undocumented immigrants. Will their workplaces be raided? Will there be mass expulsions? Greater obstacles to gaining legal status? What will happen?

No one knows.

Samantha Yanez had not caught a wink of sleep. She arrived in the US at the age of six and now, at 21, she knows no other reality. But she has no papers. Because she arrived as a child, she was granted temporary legal status by executive order of President Barack Obama.

But Trump has sharply criticized that program and could end it when he takes office in January.

"It's as if I didn't have a country; I'm a foreigner in the only country I know," Samantha said, her voice quaking.

"I'm insecure. I feel anger, sadness -- betrayed by the American dream," she added.

Bernardino, a 34-year-old Honduran who declined to give his last name, was looking for a "coyote" to help him slip into the United States near the border city of Tijuana when he abandoned his plan. So did 18-year-old Samuel, a Salvadoran.

Both men said they feared that if they are caught, their family members living north of the border might suffer.

"Imagine if they stop me, after a while my family living over there would have problems. The truth I never imagined is that the blond man might win," Samuel said at Padre Chava's breakfast hall, a soup kitchen in downtown Tijuana that provides food and clothing for more than 1,000 immigrants every day.

- 'The Trump tragedy' -

Some 65 percent of Hispanic voters supported Democrat Hillary Clinton, but that was not enough to defeat her Republican rival. The election result left many Hispanics -- the largest minority in the country, at 55 million strong -- with long, tearful, worried faces.

"We are living in uncertainty, very worried, because we don't know what is going to happen," said Libertad Sanchez, a 50-year-old Ecuadoran hairdresser who lives in New York and, even after 17 years in the country, still has no papers.

Jose Alejo, however, insists he is not worried. Undocumented in the United States for 22 years, he has never had problems. Having absorbed a bitter defeat -- "I had hoped to have a female president" -- he says he will go on working.

Every day at sunrise he arrives at a community center in Pasadena (15 miles, or 25 kilometers, from Los Angeles), where painting, construction, moving, gardening and cleaning jobs are passed out, paying "enough to get by."

There was talk at the center on Wednesday of the "Trump tragedy." But Jose is among those who think that much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the fierce election campaign was simply that -- talk -- and that in the end, things will be "just like with the other presidents: lots of promises, not much action."

- Obama, 'deporter in chief' -

"Who harvests the crops in the field? Who washes the dishes in the restaurants? Have you seen any American -- some blond American -- doing it? What would this place be without us?" asks a beefy 47-year-old man.

"And Trump promises to improve the economy, and they need us for that."

Experts predict the white working-class voters who helped propel Trump to the White House will insist he keep at least some of his promises to curb immigration, which included a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and "extreme vetting" of immigrants from countries deemed at high risk for terrorism.

Hillary Clinton promised during her campaign to carry out far-reaching immigration reform. But Obama had promised the same in 2012 before being blocked by Republicans in Congress.

Many Hispanics reproach Obama for having deported some 2.5 million people between 2009 and 2015, more than any other US president, albeit while sparing certain categories such as childhood arrivals and parents of legal residents. The record earned him the moniker of "Deporter in Chief" from some rights organizations.

The question today among worried Hispanics is whether Trump will deport even more.

The president-elect has reportedly added anti-immigration Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach to his transition team -- news that will not allay their fears.

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