Immigrant students at Patterson high school talks about feeling uneasy about the election of Donald Trump. (Baltimore Sun video)
Many of the nearly 500 immigrant students at Patterson High School had never been through an American presidential election. Some thought the president was like a king with unlimited power.
They came to school Wednesday with questions and fears about Donald Trump.
"I listen all the time to Trump. I know what he say. All Latino people is criminals," said Joseline Orellana, a 16-year-old girl who arrived two years ago from El Salvador and watched the election returns at home alone while her mother worked.
Orellana was caught trying to cross the U.S. border illegally, and her case is pending in court. She is worried that she and millions of others might be deported under a Trump presidency.
Immigrant communities across the nation expressed trepidation at Trump's win, and turned to schools and immigrant advocacy groups for guidance. The president-elect has taken a hard-line stance on immigration, promising to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, to deport more immigrants who are in the country without legal documentation and to implement "extreme vetting" of Muslim immigrants.
At Patterson High, Principal Vance Benton said his staff was concerned about the immigrant students who recently arrived in this country, a group that makes up 48 percent of the school's population.
Guidance counselors and Spanish-speaking social workers were dispatched to visit classrooms. Students in one English class wrote about their feelings.
Teachers assured Orellana and other immigrant students that they are safe at school — federal immigration authorities are prohibited from entering schools unless they have a warrant for someone's arrest — and explained that the president is not a dictator, that the American system of government has checks and balances.
"There are a lot of people who will stand up for you here and protect you," Margot Harris, head of Patterson's English as a Second Language program, told students Wednesday.
Officials with CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, said they fielded a higher-than-usual number of phone calls Wednesday, particularly from those worried about losing work permits.
"We are asking people to not be afraid. They should go about their lives as usual," said Maria Fernanda Durand, a CASA spokeswoman. "Stay calm. Nothing is going to change overnight. We have some time to organize. They aren't going to start knocking on doors tomorrow."
At the International Rescue Committee, which helps to resettle refugees, officials said they developed strategies on how to talk to clients about the election.
"One of the things we wanted to reinforce is that we are a country of immigrants with a long history of accepting and embracing some of the world's most vulnerable people," said Ruben Chandrasekar, executive director in Baltimore.
Harris told one class of Patterson students that they might one day cast their own votes in an election. She said she tries not to express her political views but felt compelled to tell students who asked that she voted for Hillary Clinton. They wanted to know if she supported Trump's views on immigration.
Many of the Patterson students have been in the country a short time — from a few months to a few years.
In one room, teachers gathered Arabic-speaking refugees from Syria, Sudan and Kenya. The students said they worried they would be sent back to those countries even though they are legally allowed to stay and become citizens.
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Reema Alfaheed, an Iraqi student who has been in the U.S. four years and is now fluent in English, translated for the students.
"If he kicks us out, we have nowhere to go," she said. Alfaheed and her family spent six years in a desert refugee camp with little food and were often cold.
Patterson's staff reassured the students that their legal documentation would be honored, though other family members who applied for refugee status might not be allowed to come to the U.S. if Trump reduces the number of asylees allowed. The staff told the students to alert them if they felt they were being harassed.
A model of a museum that holds the Bill of Rights sat in the corner of a classroom, not far from Dinora Cruz, 17, who illegally crossed the border from El Salvador. A court also will decide whether she is allowed to stay. She believes violence would await her at home from "gangsters." She wants to stay and become a police officer.
"Some people feel angry. Some people feel sad," she said. "They want to cry."