December 19, 2016

Immigrants seek guidance as Trump era nears

Efrain Salazar, looking tired and down, sat in the waiting room of a drop-in immigration clinic on a recent afternoon because he couldn’t wait any longer.

His sister, a U.S. citizen, applied for permanent residency for Salazar, an immigrant from Mexico living in San Francisco illegally, in the late 1990s. He’s moved around a lot since then and taken a lot of different jobs, and he never bothered to find out where he was in the line for a green card. Until now.

“I’m wondering where I am in the process,” said the 63-year-old Potrero Hill resident, who works as a prep cook in a Marina neighborhood restaurant.

One person prompted Salazar’s sudden interest: President-elect Donald Trump. Salazar is one of many immigrants without documentation who are anxious about their fates under the Trump administration and are turning to drop-in immigration clinics for legal advice.

“The way he acts is not the way a president should act,” Salazar said as he waited. “He’s heartless.” Like the others interviewed at the clinic, he spoke in Spanish through an interpreter. “We came here to work, we’re paying rent, we’re contributing. Why is he discriminating so much against us?”

There are at least two dozen legal organizations that offer immigration assistance in San Francisco, and many of them run drop-in clinics in which a lawyer or an immigration counselor sits ready to help whoever walks in the door at little to no cost. Anecdotally, the clinics report more clients and a big increase in fear and anxiety since Trump’s election.