According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 11.3 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, accounting for 3.5% of the nation’s population. For the majority of undocumented immigrants, there is no clear path to securing citizenship, residency, or even a work permit. Several attempts to pass legislation recognizing undocumented immigrants have all fallen short. Proposals such as the Federal DREAM act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) have been reintroduced several times, but are unable to gain enough support to pass. In reaction to the most recent failure of the DREAM Act, President Obama announced one of the most controversial executive actions of his presidency.
The Deferred Action of Childhood Arrival program (DACA) would give those who are eligible the opportunity to receive a renewable two year work permit, and be exempted from deportation during that time. To be eligible for the program, applicants must be between the ages 15- 31 and have lived in the United States since June 15, 2012. Applicants need to have arrived in the country before their 16th birthday, and must be either going to school, have received a high school diploma, or have served in the military. The DACA program has given many undocumented child arrivals the opportunity to be recognized by the government.
Unfortunately, the fate of DACA and programs like it currently hang in the balance.
Immigration reform has established itself as one of the main issues in the upcoming 2016
election. Many politicians have expressed strong opposition to programs that allow legal recognition of undocumented immigrants. As the immigration debate heats up, there is very little that undocumented people can do to make their voices heard.
In an effort to help spread awareness about the stories of undocumented persons, we interviewed two UTD students currently enrolled in the DACA program. The authors and interviewers are members of UTD’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). LULAC is an organization dedicated to Latino political activism as well as preservation of our culture and communities. These interviews will hopefully provide an educational platform for undocumented students to tell their stories and share their thoughts on immigration reform. The names of those interviewed have been changed to protect students and their confidentiality.
How did you arrive in the United States?
Oscar: I came to the United States with my family. The first time that I came to the United States was for a wedding. My uncles were already living here in the U.S., and my family made the decision to emigrate as well for better opportunities. We were struggling in Mexico. At the time I was nine years old, and my mom was pregnant with my youngest brother. I’m the oldest, so it was just me and my other brother at the time. My dad and my mom made the decision that my dad, my brother and I would move to the United States first, and my mom was going stay in Mexico to have my brother because she couldn’t travel. So we didn’t do, I guess the typical walking across the border thing, but we actually got our visas and our passports and we came on a train, and then we just stayed here. Around that time I was barely turning 10. That’s how I came to the United States. It wasn’t like, anything too drastic. I just turned 20 this month, so that means this will be my 10th year living in the United States. I’m really happy because in a way I’ve been living half of my life in the United States, and it seems from now on I’m going to call this place my home until I die… or I get deported.
At what stage of the immigration process are you at?
Oscar: Right now I’m considered a DACA student — that’s the deferred action program. I renewed my DACA this October, and I just barely received my new DACA ID, which is for two years, so it will expire again in December 2017. I’m a DACA student, but before that I was just an undocumented student. That’s one of the things I was really happy about, when the Obama administration passed the DACA act and the DREAM act. It gave me the hope to be able to work or like, go to college. That was my biggest fear, that I would graduate from college and not have a job because of my illegal status, being undocumented.
I spoke with friends that had already graduated from high school or even gone to college that were undocumented students. They had to suffer for a while until the DACA came through and really helped a lot of people. It definitely helped me in many ways — getting my first job and getting my driver’s license. When I was 16 years old people would ask me “hey are you going to driving school?” and there was no way I could tell them that I can’t do that because I’m undocumented. They won’t give me a license. It was very awkward, but being undocumented has never stopped me from achieving my goals or my dreams. It was actually more of a push factor because I knew nothing was going to be easy. I always have to take the extra step. That’s kind of how I’ve been raised since I came to this country. I know how to work harder than other people because I’m undocumented.
It really saddens me to see Hispanic students that happened to be born U.S. born citizens not take advantage of all the opportunities they have. They give up a lot when they have been given so much. For me, nothing was given. I had to work hard to get where I am today. That’s why I’m very positive and confident about who I am today because I know the work I have put in. I’m very proud of everything I have done. I’m very fortunate. With that confidence, I’ve been able to make new relationships. People trust in me and believe in me, and it really helps with this process and this journey I have taken. I hope to be the first in my family to graduate from college. I’m first generation, so I want to give back the same opportunities that I have to other students. That’s why I tutor students at a high school.
What kind of immigration reforms do you hope for in the future?
Oscar: First of all, if we were to take it little by little, I would love to see all the people in the DACA program given the opportunity to become residents. Or even citizens. At the same time I would love to stop all of the ICE stuff. The random deportations. I feel like that’s very wrong deporting people just like that. It’s basically just kicking them out. It goes all the way to when the Americans kicked out the Native Americans. I’m not saying America is our land, but a lot of us have been raised on this land and worked on this land. Therefore we deserve to live on this land.
What would you like the student body to know about undocumented students?
Oscar: I would like them to know that we do exist. We’re not invisible. We’re on campus. We walk with you guys and you may even have friends who are undocumented. I just wish the school would acknowledge us a little more. Support us a little more. Just don’t neglect the issue. It’s on campus and it exists. A lot of us suffer through this, but we don’t let it affect us. We don’t want to be judged or treated differently. What we want is to be treated as equals. That’s all we want.
How did you enter the U.S.?
Monica: Well there was a first attempt, but that didn’t work out. Then in the second attempt, me and my sister used fake papers. Papers that belonged to a family friend. Their daughters were close to the same age as us, so we used their papers. We came with my uncle and my aunt that already had papers. Yeah, that’s how we got here. I was three when I entered the country. I was practically raised here in Texas.
Was college ever in your plans?
Monica: I think education, like in general, my parents would always be like “you’re going to college no matter what, whether we can afford it or not.” My dad would always say that “it doesn’t matter, I can find some way to get the money,” that “you guys are going to go.” So yeah, I think very early on, I knew I was going to go to college. I didn’t know how I was going to go, but I knew I was going to go. I think it was the way I was raised. We came here to get an education. The thought of not going to college would be something that would, I think, devastate my parents, you know? Like wanting to work rather than going to college, that is something that was not an option.
What makes the undocumented student experience unique?
Monica: I think it’s unique in many different ways. I feel like I can relate to other students, not only here in college, but in high school too. Even international students that come and like… I don’t know… it’s a way I can relate to them. I also know how much effort it is, how much money it takes to do all the things that students who are U.S. citizens have the opportunity to do. Growing up, I never thought I would have a license because it was not something that my parents had. I feel like it has made me more considerate of people and what they were going through. Also being grateful for all the little things that I do have, like a driver’s license! Yeah like, growing up here, people are like “oh. Let me go get my driver’s license.” It was just like a little check off their list to becoming an adult. For me, it was something big like “oh! I have my license! I can finally drive without being scared of getting pulled over!” Stuff like that. I’ve always been aware that everything costs. Small things cost.
How do you feel about the recent political rhetoric targeted at undocumented people?
Monica: I think it’s upsetting. In my opinion I don’t think they have the right to speak that way about undocumented people because they’ve never been in their shoes. At the same time, I feel like citizens of the U.S. are really privileged and have a lot of opportunities to do things. So I think they just get upset that people that don’t have the same privileges as them do a better job of getting what they want.
For example, my dad doesn’t have any papers but he works out of town, maybe 10 hours a day. I think you can definitely see how difficult our process is. At first we were living with my aunt, 15 people in one small household. Then eventually we were able to get our own house, and then buy another house. That’s the one we live in currently. People get upset or angry that we have all of these things but we don’t have them because we “took them away.” We don’t have them because we “cheated the system.” My parents still pay taxes every year, but we don’t get any benefits. No social security benefits. We don’t get food stamps. We don’t get any of those things. But in the end, we are still able to eat good meals. Occasionally we go out of town and have family time together. I think people get upset because they think that undocumented people “cheat the system.” I am not saying that there aren’t people that do that, but the majority don’t take anything away from U.S. citizens. They work for it just as hard or, at times, we work harder for it. It’s upsetting, but I just have to ignore it and move on.
Are you fearful of deportation?
Monica: Yeah. Just knowing if I do something wrong, like if I drink and drive or do illegal drugs, it will affect my status, and they would take my DACA away. Not saying I would do any of those things, but I feel like I don’t have that type of freedom to “experiment” as a teenager. Not that I would even like to do any of those things. For example, someone can be drinking and driving and just get a ticket or go to jail. For me, I can get kicked out of the country. Same if we were to get a president that doesn’t support the program [DACA] and took it away… like certain politicians that are saying “we will send all undocumented people back” and also “anchor babies.” I don’t know if that is a good term to use, but that is the term used by these politicians. In that case, everyone would be sent back to their country of origin. I think that is something that can become possible, especially with the amount of support that a certain politicians are getting. There are people out there who are racist, and people who also don’t want anyone that is not from this country to be well off. I think [deportation] can become a possibility, but it is something I don’t want to think about or even should think about.
What are your plans in the future?
Monica: I want to be able to say “I want to travel the world!” and be able to do all of those things, but I know that there is stuff I have to take care of to be able to do things like that. There’s a lot of things I know that I won’t be able to do in the near future until my whole immigration process has been completed. At least until I become a citizen or something concrete. Now I just hope to finish school, get a good job, and stay out of trouble. Try to finish my process as soon as possible so I can start finding a way for my parent to get papers. Help people like me along the way too. I just know I have to finish school.