NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Carimer Andujar left the Dominican Republic when she was 4 years old. She and her mother emigrated to escape domestic abuse.
They settled in Spanish Harlem, a neighborhood in Manhattan, for a year. When she was in first grade, Andujar and her family moved to Passaic, a city in North Jersey, which has been her home for almost 16 years.
Now, the 21-year-old Rutgers University junior could be forced to leave the U.S.
Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents zeroed in on Andujar, an undocumented immigrant, about two months ago. She received protection under a 2012 executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but her registration expired on Friday despite her filing for renewal last year. She’s scheduled to meet with ICE officers on May 9 in Newark.
“It’s been insane and intense, just because this is the only home I’ve known,” Andujar told TAPinto New Brunswick today, May 1, in Rutgers’ Scott Hall. “Being deported not only means relocation, but also separation from the life that you’ve been building.”
But Rutgers professors, administrators and students have moved quickly to defend the budding chemical engineer.
The faculty union, for example, launched a widely-publicized social media campaign under the hashtag #HandsOffCarimer. University affiliates and New Brunswick-based activists have planned protests in support of Andujar. Early this afternoon, demonstrators in a May Day march and rally—of which she was the featured speaker—shouted support for the young woman.
Elected officials have also thrown their weight behind Andujar. The office of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker reached out to her and then federal administrators, she said. Sen. Bob Menendez, meanwhile, attempted to figure out why her DACA renewal has lagged in bureaucratic purgatory.
And her attorney and various immigrants’ rights groups have gone to bat for Andujar. When she heads to her interview with ICE, she’ll be accompanied by a team of lawyers.
But support from the community doesn’t guarantee immunity from deportation or detention.
“I have a life here,” she said. “The thought of that being instantly taken away from me, and me being taken away from my family—it’s been difficult.”
Why immigration authorities chose to target Andujar is unclear. An ICE spokesperson told TAPinto New Brunswick that it can’t discuss specific cases without a signed privacy waiver.
Andujar and others believe her status as an outspoken, pro-immigrant activist might have attracted the heat. She is the founder and president of UndocuRutgers, a camps group that lobbies for students who are undocumented immigrants.
“ICE is never going to tell us why they targeted her,” Lucye Millerand, president of the Union of Rutgers Administration, told TAPinto New Brunswick.
Aside from Andujar’s connection to Rutgers, the investigation has worried some activists because students who register under DACA are supposed to be guarded against deportation. Only those who commit crimes are meant to face that threat, according to the order.
For Andujar, the situation is a frightening one. She considers herself an American. And she wouldn’t know what to do if she were to be compelled to return to the Dominican Republic.
Although she’s fluent in Spanish, Andujar is more comfortable with English. Plus, she said, she doesn’t know the culture of the tropical island nation.
“Being American is not just having a piece of paper,” she said. “It means a lot more.”
She understands that some people—especially with the rise of President Donald Trump and his nationalist policies—would be happy to see her go. But she doesn’t agree with their reasoning.
“I came here when I was 4, and I didn’t come here out of my own decision,” Andujar said. “We came here because of the dire circumstances we were facing in the Dominican Republic.”
For much of her life, Andujar didn’t know whether she’d be able to attend college. Financial pressures and her being an undocumented immigrant left that a question until she was a senior in high school.
Now, she’s unsure whether she’ll be allowed to finish her degree.