Thanks to President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children had the opportunity to come out of the shadows. Now, President Trump has ended the program, which gave Dreamers a renewable work permit and shielded them from deportation. We spoke with DACA recipients to find out their stories and why they consider themselves to be Americans in every way except on paper.
First up is María J., a 34-year-old woman from Mexico who arrived in California 20 years ago. Today, she is an engineer based in North Carolina.
This is her story, as told to Andrea González-Ramírez.
I came to the U.S. when I was 14 years old, without inspection. I was first brought into California through the border, and me and my siblings grew up moving back and forth between Modesto and Los Angeles. We used to move to Modesto because we worked in the fields, that’s how I spent my summers. I used to tell myself that if I didn’t want for this to be my future, I had to do something different. I needed to work hard in school.
Moving back to Los Angeles, there were more opportunities than in rural California. I went to three high schools because we used to move around so much, but I still managed to graduate with a good GPA. Sometimes when you really want something and you do your best, the right people come to you. I surrounded myself with people who would think like me, and with counselors who saw the possibility in me to go to college, that’s how I ended up going to California State University, Long Beach — because there were people who believed in me.
In college, I wasn’t so open about my status because I thought a lot of people wouldn’t understand. I also feel it helped me stay out of trouble. I knew I couldn’t risk getting a DUI, so I wouldn’t drink in college. I wouldn’t do drugs or any of that stuff because I knew I had only one chance. Anything that I did wrong would screw everything up.
When I graduated, a lot of jobs wanted experience and education, and I only had education. I had to apply to a lot of places. I remember sending letters to employers that I would volunteer my time, asking if they would let me get experience. One of them did, and eventually that turned into a job. That’s actually how I started in the industry that I am in right now.
When DACA came around, I went back to school and I did my master’s in engineering at California State University-Fullerton. My pay tripled. I helped my family and my mother a lot more; I was able to provide for them. I was able to aspire to bigger positions and to relocate.
I want President Trump to know that people like me... we've helped make America great.
DACA changed everything. I bought a house. It gave me the opportunities I had been waiting for for a long time.
I feel like a member of this nation, but I feel scared at times — especially now living in a conservative state. I’ve been thinking what I will do with my house if I have to leave; I would probably have to sell it. I’ve even been doing research about companies that I could work at overseas.
I feel anxious about it because my future is uncertain. But at the same time, I feel very grateful for everything that has been offered to me: education, the opportunity to learn an industry, the opportunity of living in this great nation. If, in the worst-case scenario, I would have to leave — I’m taking that with me.
The thing that hurts me the most about possibly leaving is that I know my siblings wouldn’t go back, and my mother wouldn't either because she wants to see her grandchildren grow up. I would leave my family and friends, everything I care for.
I want President Trump to know that people like me... we've helped make America great. I relocated to the mountains of New Hampshire, where no engineer wanted to go, and I made manufacturing improvements there. If Trump's goal is to improve this nation, to bring more jobs, then getting rid of some of us who are willing to do those things is not going to be good for the country.
We’re people that have been shaped to think outside the box, so we bring great things to the job market and we’re some of the most hardworking people you’ll ever meet. If we could go back in time, and had the chance to come the right way, we would have done it the right way. But when you’re a minor, you can’t.
Being a DREAMer is to have hope every day, is to dream about the possibilities and to work hard every day for the things you want because nothing has ever come easily to us.
We’ve been part of this nation for a long time. We’re not bad people. We just want to do the right thing here. That’s why we came out of the shadows.
This story was originally published on September 1, 2017.