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Law-Abiding but Illegal, and Fearing the New Trump Rules - New York Times

Delfin Polanco waits on Thursday morning for a lawyer to help him stay in the country where he raised his son and has lived for 22 years.

Like about 40 others, he arrived by 5 a.m. in Lower Manhattan for a legal clinic offered for immigrants by Catholic Charities. It will be hours before he is seen.

To pass the time, Mr. Polanco thumbs through pictures on his phone and cards in his wallet.

There he is outside the old Yankee Stadium in 2008, behind two men carrying championship trophies, part of the crew that was moving the team into its new home down the block.

Here he is on the Teamsters union card that he got in 1999, which lets him work as a mover.

And there is his medical card, listing him as a patient of a clinic at Bellevue Hospital Center, where he goes for treatment of the breathing ailments that he got after working on the cleanup of the World Trade Center site. “Look,” Mr. Polanco says. “I had hair.”

Now he is 47 and not much is left. Mr. Polanco moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1995 when he married an American citizen. Along the way, they divorced. “They stamped ‘deport’ on my work paper seven years ago and tell me to come back every year for the inspection,” he said.

More people live in New York City in 2017 than at any time in its history; nearly half were born outside the United States. The city’s white population has declined by 3.5 million since 1950. They have been replaced by immigrants. A tribe of people from all over the world saved the city by moving here and going to work. The Trump family made fortunes in New York, thanks to them. With or without permission to be in the country, immigrants drove pistons in the city and national economy — in the service industry, in agriculture, in universities and in entry-level jobs.

Inevitably, some large, uncountable number are here without permission. The enforcement of immigration laws depends on a cat’s cradle of rules and policies strung together by successive presidential administrations. Over time, the population of foreign-born people in the United States who do not have citizenship, working papers or other visas is thought to have grown to 11 million. Many national Republicans once advocated comprehensive immigration reform, but such views became heresy with the rise of the Tea Party after the 2008 financial crisis.

The political stalemate meant the continued growth of a jury-rigged system that allowed tacit acceptance of people who were law-abiding, apart from their immigration status. Like, for instance, Mr. Polanco.

This week, President Trump’s administration announced plans to enforce the laws aggressively by deporting people who are in the country illegally, regardless of their behavior. Those plans may be limited by the sheer logistics, and in public statements the administration has said it will use its resources to find and deport the most dangerous criminals, which was the practice of the Obama administration. Nevertheless, worries about expanded enforcement are driving throngs to clinics like the one held by Catholic Charities every Thursday in the financial district beginning at 8 a.m., according to Mario Russell, the director of immigrant and refugee services for the archdiocese. Many people were turned away, advised to call a hotline, 800-566-7636.

The first people arrived at the clinic this week at 4:30 a.m. to make sure they could see one of the five lawyers and three counselors. Dionne Raymon, 42, a mother of three who was born in Jamaica and has been in the United States for 24 years, was there by 5.

“Last week, I couldn’t see anyone because I didn’t get here until 8:30,” Ms. Raymon said. “I had to get the kids out to school. They are off this week.”

Others spoke about boarding subways at 4 a.m., of getting waylaid in the unfamiliar canyons of Lower Manhattan on previous trips. Ms. Raymon said she had never had a minute’s trouble with the police. Studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. “But to live outside the law, you must be honest,” Bob Dylan wrote.

“I’ve never been to jail,” Mr. Polanco said. “Tickets, nothing.”

His son, born in the United States, is about to start college, but is still too young to “claim” his father under kinship citizenship eligibility. Mr. Polanco frets that returning to the Dominican Republic will put medical care for his lung problems beyond his means. “I came here, I was young,” Mr. Polanco said. “Now I am old. Old and sick.”