HOUSTON (AP) — Young immigrants protected by executive action from deportation say they won't "rest easy," even if President Donald Trump says they should.
Several "dreamers" told The Associated Press on Friday that they were not comforted by Trump's pledge, in an AP interview, that he wouldn't target the almost 800,000 people brought to the U.S. as children and living in the country illegally under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program enacted by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Trump told the AP that his administration is "not after the 'dreamers,' we are after the criminals."
"Here is what they can hear: The 'dreamers' should rest easy," Trump said. "OK? I'll give you that. The 'dreamers' should rest easy."
It was Trump's latest statement expressing support for immigrants in the program, even as his administration broadly cracks down on illegal immigration. U.S. officials have promised to speed up and widen deportations, and threatened local governments that don't cooperate with federal immigration agents.
"Obviously actions speak louder than words," said Saba Nafees, a 24-year-old 'dreamer' who is a graduate student at Texas Tech University. "His actions are pretty terrifying. What I've seen across the country, it's unbearable for all of these families."
Juan Escalante, a 28-year-old who came to the U.S. from Venezuela at age 11, said he was "not comforted by the president's words."
"He has said he will treat us with 'heart' and to 'rest easy,' and it just seems so general," Escalante said.
Some young immigrants pointed to the case of Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old whose attorneys say is the first person enrolled in the DACA program to be deported. After initially denying Montes was covered by DACA, federal authorities said this week that Montes had violated the conditions of the program.
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which is representing Montes, said Trump was trying to have it both ways.
"This is a president who is saying, 'I love dreamers and I care about them as children,' and yet is turning around and traumatizing them and their families," she said.
The program granted work authorization to certain immigrants brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday. The young people who benefit are called 'dreamers' because the program mimics versions of the so-called DREAM Act, which would have provided legal status for young immigrants but was never passed by Congress.
Trump has left Obama's program in place, and he said before his January inauguration that people protected under DACA would "end up being very happy." A month later, he called the program "a very difficult thing for me as I love these kids."
Rafael Robles, 26, and two of his siblings have relied on the program for years to go to school and work in the U.S. Their parents brought them to the Chicago area from Mexico as young children on visitor visas, which they overstayed.
"In a weird way it does put my mind at ease because at least there is something to bring forward if he were to change his mind," said Robles, who works at a real estate development company. "It sort of sends a message that they are having conversations about 'dreamers.'"
But Greisa Martinez, an immigrant in the program who is also advocacy director for the group United We Dream, said Trump could push Congress to give 'dreamers' permanent legal status if he wanted.
"Just telling me that he loves me and wants me to rest easy doesn't make me be able to be any more safe or more secure in my home, or tell my mother that everything is going to be OK," Martinez said.
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and Associated Press reporters Sophia Tareen in Chicago; Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; and David Porter in Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.