This is the tale of two Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, Sonia and Michelle. Sonia and Michelle’s stories came about because they accepted, under provision of identifying them by first names only, an invitation to speak at a recent meeting on campus hosted by the Intercultural Women’s Society.
While in many respects they have shared similar experiences, their stories are unique. Sonia is an only child and Michelle has two younger brothers. They were both brought to the U.S. as children from different parts of Mexico. Sonia was 5 and Michelle was 10.
They had similar problems learning English. Sonia needed ESL instruction and received it. Michelle did not. Michelle and her family lived in Arizona their first year in the U.S. She was in sixth grade at the time. In Mexico, she loved school but in Arizona she hated it. For the first six months, she couldn’t understand anything. How did she solve the problem? She got her dad to get her a Spanish-English dictionary.
“I would cry, and I would sit there every day after school, like reading every single word and memorizing it, and trying to pronounce it.” Michelle said she succeeded in learning English and has suffered some criticism from others: “Why do you talk so white? Why don’t you talk Mexican?”
Culturally, both young women consider themselves American but also enjoy their Mexican roots. They have more holidays to celebrate and more foods from which to choose. Michelle says she can sing along to Mexican corridos (ballads that tell a story) and follow up with Justin Bieber.
Both young women have struggled economically. In Sonia’s case, she and her parents have rented the same house in Mesquite for 19 years. She has dreams of home ownership.
“Since DACA came out I have been working on my credit and since then my credit has been going up and doing good. And with that, I am hoping to one day buy my parents a home,” Sonia said.
She was unable to afford extracurricular activities, but with DACA, she has found new economic freedom.
“I am able to make money and help my parents and my little brothers.”
In fact, she paid for her brother to take a trip to Washington, D.C. with his school band. Thus, DACA has enabled her to do for her brother what was impossible before.
What does the possible loss of DACA mean to them? Anxiety and fear of deportation. They realize that the government has their fingerprints and all their vital information and that it would be possible for them to just be picked up and deported. The two DACA students agree that for them as adults, who grew up here, it would be next to impossible to go back. They would have to start over again. The difficulty of that leads them to say, “I can’t.”
They were asked what they were doing to try and convince the government to allow them to stay. Sonia went with her cousin to a protest at city hall. Michelle wanted to go to Washington, D.C, to demonstrate, but was unable to get permission from her employer to miss work.
In September, the Trump administration began a phase-out of the DACA program. That will affect roughly 800,000 recipients of DACA and turn them into undocumented immigrants. So far, legal challenges and congressional action to approve the Dream Act have not been successful. There are many other legislative items on the agenda in Congress that have taken precedence.