Story and photos by Claudia Meléndez Salinas
Almost 190,000 immigrants in California benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the most of any state. DACA was approved by President Barack Obama to give people who were brought to the United States illegally as minors a path to citizenship and economic self-sufficiency. The Migration Policy Institute says there are 188,420 DACA recipients in California, although about 394,000 individuals are eligible to apply.
President Donald Trump ended the program in 2017, five years after it went into effect, sending the lives of these “Dreamers” into a tailspin. The decision was immediately challenged in court, and earlier this month the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the Trump Administration acted legally when it rescinded the program.
There are at least 4,310 young adults in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties who have received DACA. Voices asked two of them to tell their story and to describe how the pending Supreme Court decision is affecting their lives. We also feature a young man who could benefit from DACA but wasn’t able to apply before the Trump Administration ended it.
Lilly, 18, Santa Cruz
I’m going to Cabrillo College to major in sociology, but with everything that’s going on I want to change it to political science, I want to change to law. I came to the U.S. when I was less than 1.5 years old. I don’t remember much from my home country, Mexico. Growing up, I didn’t know I was undocumented until I was 16, when I wanted to apply for my driver’s license. My parents told me I was able to get DACA when I was 16. I have an older sister who benefits from DACA, a younger sister who was born in the country, the only one. It’s strenuous to be surrounded by people who can be taken away from her at any moment.
We came here because my mom was really sick. She had an illness of her ovaries; we decided to come here so she could get treatment. My dad was working here and, in their eyes, it was better. We’re from a very small town in Oaxaca, it’s very poor there. They wanted to give their daughters a better education from what they had.
At first, before the election (took place), I didn’t think (Trump) could win. When he got elected, it was terrifying. Then he said he was going to take (DACA) away. I thought he would not be able to take it away. I remember the news app, the notification that had been taken away. I remember being in class, I was numb and super sad for the rest of the day … It’s like when the TV signal goes out and all you see is static. I felt like really present with my life going around and around.
Then I started working as much as I could to save money. If it gets taken away I wanted to make as much money in a short time and be prepared for what’s next. It was a roller coaster. You don’t know if your work authorization has been revoked. It’s really scary to have that being taken away even though it’s not necessarily your fault you were brought into a country.
I feel DACA is a Band-Aid. It fixes the (problem) a little bit at a time, but it neglects other populations. If it gets taken away, we need to work on a more stable fix, not just for DACA recipients, but those who are left.
I try to stay positive right now and process what am I’m going to do if (DACA) is going to get revoked. Growing up here, I can visualize a future in here where I’m successful. I can, but at times it’s difficult to maintain that possibility.
I spent 1.5 year (in Mexico), I don’t remember much. I’m out of touch with my cultural roots and my family who lives there. It’s difficult to visualize a life there, especially given that the town is a poor town, not surrounded by as many opportunities I have here, thanks to my parents. If it comes down to that I can work around that, come up with a plan and be successful in México and in Oaxaca.
Anonymous, 20, Seaside
I was born in Guerrero. We lived in a place surrounded by mountains, the countryside. I moved here when I was 3 … I came in a van with my two brothers with somebody else’s identity. I don’t have any memories of Mexico, just pictures.
The first night I slept on the floor with my siblings and parents was one of the most comfortable in my life. I’d never slept on a bed, I’d only slept on a bed when I was 7 to 11, then I slept on the couch or the ground. During high school, it was just my parents working and (the landlord) had raised the rent in my house. My dad did not feel like living here anymore … he felt like going back home and be a farmer; that’s what he likes to do.
I supported him, but my mom said we did not cross the border to go back with nothing. She wanted us to pursue an education, so that’s what made me pursue an education. My mom and two brothers were not old enough to work at the time, so my mom would work six days a week, we would stay at school and walk home, then stayed in the room all of us. It was the smallest room fitting five people. It seemed pretty bad. It was, but I was just glad our family was still together, still holding each other. We could only stay there for a while. We looked for another room to rent. I could not work, I was not old enough; I did not have documentation and no driver’s license. When I was 18, I got a driver’s license and I found somebody who would get me (fake) documents and I started working.
My little sister started to have pain in her knees … Over time, the pain got worse, she would stay up at night crying. I was scared. One day she was so bad she was sent to Stanford and they found leukemia in her bones. During that time, my mom was not really there; a lot of the times it was just my brothers and I in the room. My mom would call us to check on us and ask us if we ate that day. The lady we were renting the room from said ‘It’s alright you don’t have to pay rent this month.’
It was very difficult, my mom was trying so hard. I took advantage of the school lunches we had, when they gave us food so my mom would not have to worry if we ate or not. There was a moment (my sister) was considered death, they’d given her some medicine. My older brother was with her visiting and she’d passed out, her heart monitor stopped. They told my mom she’d died, it’s the craziest thing that happened to me. I don’t know how they brought her back to life, I still can’t believe that.
Once I graduated, I started looking for a job. When I was a bus boy I was treated so bad. I’d work from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and they would not give us a break. Since I was not born here, I felt I could not say anything. I felt like I had no power at my job. I’m kind of glad I don’t work there anymore. I feel more independent because I’m not under them, they can’t tell me what to do, but it’s harder to look for a job. I’ve had offers from Pebble Beach; it’s my dream job but documents are holding me back.
Trump got rid of DACA; the year I applied is the year they canceled it. I had saved all my money to try to apply for it; we never had any issue with the law. I was mad for not getting into the program. I as a Chicano man I want to be able to provide for my family. I don’t want them to fear we’re gonna lose our home. I want us to be financially stable.
I’m just waiting for the Supreme Court ruling, hoping they rule on the people’s side. It’s such important legislation so people can work.
The struggle makes you more humble. You are always grateful for something you don’t have.
I’m looking forward, I try not to look at the past, you can’t change that. I know I’m struggling right now but one day I’ll become a U.S. citizen.
I’m really into politics. I watch independent shows, and it’s difficult because you’re taught about laws and that if you don’t follow them, you get in trouble. And it’s difficult because the president can get away with it; he committed true crimes right in front of the American people and it’s crazy how he’s not getting prosecuted for what he’s done. He has a racist advisor; it’s crazy to know that that those ideologies exist are existing in politics. It’s hard to feel hopeful but I know that’s all I can do, to be hopeful.
Adriana Gonzales, 27, Salinas
I came to Salinas when I was 7 years old. All I remember is my mom saying was we were gonna go to the United States so I can pursue an education, because given our socioeconomic status she knew it would be almost impossible for me to obtain an education in Mexico City. Most of her family were already here. They all happened to be legal residents or citizens, it was hard that we were stuck in Mexico without any documentation. She decided to join her family pretty much and bring me along, leaving my two older sisters behind. They were older, making their own families, it did not make sense to bring all the family anymore.
I grew up in Salinas, attended public school in East Salinas. We followed the corrida; I was a migrant child for a couple of years. That was my life up to the third grade, when my mom got scolded by one of my teachers, saying that life was not going to benefit me — having to move around, missing school, not having a routine. My mom decided to try to get a permanent job so she became a cook and has been a cook ever since to allow me get more settled into the education system here. I knew I wanted to get an education early on. It was always my mom’s dream; I’ve been trying to pursue my mom’s dream. It’s difficult still trying to get my B.A. because of complications for not being able to receive financial aid. When financial aid became available I was already in college, and you only get aid if you’re a first-time freshman or first-time transfer, so I was not able to get any kind of aid.
I applied (for DACA) as soon as I could gather all the paperwork. I paid someone to fill my application and they filled that out wrong. My DACA needed a revision, it was delayed. I was really hesitant to go back and pay anyone else. Here at Hartnell when I was a student … I was able to renew my DACA free of cost or they’ve been able to waive my application fee.
A lot of our students, my peers, are having to renew almost every year just in case it gets revoked.
I got to a four-year college and my mom was paying out of pocket. I attended Cal State Fullerton, but it was draining my mom’s mental health and economic and well-being, and I ended up deciding to come back to Hartnell. I graduated Spring 2018 and I transferred to San Jose State to pursue a degree in public relations. I’m still trying to work on it, but it gets tough being older, working, going to school, having to deal with the uncertainty whether DACA is going to go away or not, and trying to see how it will affect my future or how it will affect my family. It’s draining, mentally draining to have to deal not only with what my personal life, things everyone goes through — stress, time management — but also, I have that in the back of my head: What’s going to happen?
When I moved to Fullerton I did not work, I had no resources, did not know anyone who could help me get a job, I was going to school but had no support system. I wasn’t able to work. When DACA came … I applied everywhere I could, but I did not get anything. I got stuck working under the table because I had no previous work experience. I felt frustrated. I thought, ‘Now that I can work, no one wants me.’
The timing (of DACA getting approved) was perfect. I decided to apply for a job being a tutor. It was perfect, I was helping migrant students. I felt very lucky that I did not get other entry level part-time jobs. After that I started to work for Mi Casa office here (in Hartnell), helping other undocumented students since 2015. I’ve been able to help other students and learn how to better cope with my status by giving out information, helping out people, and becoming pretty much an advocate for students like myself or (who are) scared to have a voice because of the administration. I’m out of the shadows, to me it makes sense. I take it as a personal responsibility to speak out and share my story with as many people as possible.
It’s difficult to be grateful, but definitely, I’m grateful for having the opportunity to be a ‘dacamented’ individual or student. If it were not for DACA, I would not be able to work in an office, not be able to use the skills that will benefit my career.
If it were not for the opportunity to be able to have a work permit, I would not be the advocate that I am. I probably would not be able to continue school, I would have said, ‘What’s the point of getting all of this?’ I probably would be going to the fields and working in an under-the-table job. Not that (it) is bad, but that’s not what my mom brought me here for.
I’m very thankful for our allies, everyone who has believed in me, given me a chance to work or speak up to tell my story and everyone who tells my story the way I want to tell it. I’m thankful for everything that has been in my life thanks to DACA, it’s very hard to imagine a life without DACA. We’ll be able to manage without it, but it will be a more difficult way. I think we’ve worked hard enough, we deserve to be here and we deserve to call this our home.
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