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By Siobhan McAndrew , smcandrew@rgj.com

“Mom. Wait. You are Mexican?” asked Gerardo, 7.

Maria Roberto watched her son grow more anxious as he started to put together the pieces of information he has heard from news, at school and from his family over the last several months.

Pretending to be a doctor with crocheted medical tools that Roberto made, Gerardo asked about the mark on his mom’s shoulder.

“It’s an immunization you get if you are born in Mexico,” Roberto said about what is sometimes referred to as the mark of Mexico, a tuberculosis vaccine not given in the U.S. where T.B. rates are low.

“You weren’t born here but you are my mom?” asked the little boy, trying to understand.

Roberto said both of her children, Gerardo and Ashlee, 10, never worried about where she was from before a new presidential administration took office and has repeatedly vowed to be tough on immigration.

“Mom, if you are Mexican, you are going to have to leave. Trump says you have to leave. Won’t you be my mom anymore?" said Gerardo just a few weeks ago from the family's home.

Roberto, 28, is one of more than 750,000 people, many high school and college students, who were given deportation amnesty under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly called DACA.

It allows people who were younger than 16 when they were brought into the U.S. illegally to stay after being vetted. They must re-register every two years.

But the Obama-era policy enacted five years ago is not a path to citizenship. It’s only a temporary stop to deportation.

Roberto was sponsored to become a citizen by her older sister, who was born in the U.S. So far, she has waited 17 years for her application to go through a lengthy process that puts siblings of applicants at the bottom of a wait list.

For now, her DACA status gives her time. She recently renewed the two-year permit that is set to expire in July.

“I’m trying to stay positive for my kids,” she said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she told Gerardo. “I will always be your mom.”

But she is worried. Reports of DACA students facing problems including questioning by immigration officials have made headlines.

“I know many people who aren’t renewing their DACA status because they feel it is just a tracking system for the government,” said Aria Overli, the organizer for Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada, or ACTIONN. The grassroots group brings together local leaders and those from 43 faith communities.

The group is advocating for reforms in immigration policies and has recently organized a petition for a man who they say is facing deportation after a traffic violation.

Overli, who received her master’s degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Nevada, Reno in December, did a two-year research project on undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors and alternative paths for inclusion.

She said there is growing fear that the applications for DACA status will be used against people when the order is repealed under Trump.

“DACA students aren’t wondering if their DACA status will be denied, they are just wondering when,” Overli said.

It’s an unfounded fear, said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

“Our operations are targeted and lead driven, prioritizing individuals who pose a risk to our communities. Examples would include known street gang members, child sex offenders, and deportable foreign nationals with significant drug trafficking convictions,” said James Schwab, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Francisco.

Roberto counted out $875 in the law office of Richard Fleischer.  It’s the cost to renew her DACA status and lawyer fee.

In a few months when her application is reviewed, Roberto will be given an appointment to haveher fingerprints taken.

It’s a lot of money to the Truckee Meadows Community College student and teacher’s aide for the Washoe County School District. She makes less than $20,000 a year.

“You shouldn’t have any problem,” said Fleischer, but warned Roberto to stay out of trouble.

“The people who have problems are the ones that are serious criminals,” he said.  “Don’t associate with people who are in trouble because you will be taken in, too.”

Roberto has never been in trouble with the law, being fearful of even a parking ticket. But she is still afraid.

“I want my kids to be safe,” she said. A single mother, Roberto worries that if she is deported, her kids will be left without her.

She talked to Fleischer about documents she could sign that would give her mother and father custody of her children if she were to be deported. Her parents, who live in Reno, received their green cards, shortly after coming to the United States. Their oldest daughter, who was born in the U.S. was able to file their application when she turned 21.

“I am here because my father believed in giving us a better life,” Roberto said. “Now that I am old enough to understand. I agree with him and thank him.

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