This is the second of three interviews in our Immigration series. The purpose of the series is take a closer look at how national immigration policies are affecting students at Juniata High School. Because of the sensitive legal issues surrounding immigration, the names of the students have been withheld.
The following interview features a student who was brought to this country as a child and has been protected under DACA; however, without legislative action, her DACA protection will expire next year. Aside from some minor editing for grammar and clarity, this is her story in her own words.
What is DACA and why/how is it given to an individual?
DACA stands for Deferred Action For Childhood Arrival. To obtain DACA status you had to be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, had to come to the U.S. while under the age of 16, and have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present. I was brought to the United States when I was three years old.
What is the concern for your family now that DACA is set to expire?
When my DACA status expires in May 2019, the biggest concern for my family and myself is that I will not be able to study or work after high school. The day my DACA expires, my boss will have to fire me because I’ll no longer be legal. Then I will be placed on the deportation list and at risk of being removed from this country.
Are there other situations aside from DACA that directly affect your family?
TPS, Temporary Protected Status, is the protection that has allowed my dad to work, earn his driver’s license, and now own a house all under his name for 18 years. Honduran recipients of TPS have about 4 months until government officials will announce if Hondurans’ protected status will be extended for another 18 months or if their status will expire. This is a decision that will affect my entire family. If the government officials do not extend TPS for 18 months, then my father, who is the head of the house, will be deported. The fear that he will be deported does not stop there because once ICE comes to our doors they will also see that my mother (who stayed in Honduras to give birth to me and therefore missed the deadline to apply for TPS) is not here legally, and then they will find out that I am not legal if DACA has expired. Three in one household will be deported in one trip. What will happen to my younger siblings? We will probably have no choice but to take them with us as well because we have no other family that lives close to us. They will be going to another country to be called “aliens” because they were not born in Honduras.
What were conditions like in Honduras when your parents left? Have they changed or improved since then?
TPS was granted to Hondurans because of the disaster of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. My parents came to the U.S. not because of the hurricane but because of the poor situation they lived in. They had no real house. They lived in dirt homes which they made by themselves, and the floor was just the ground. Food was scarce and there was no energy or light. Men and women always carried handguns because of the gangs and men who drink and then want to abuse women. Things have not gotten better; gangs are getting worse and now transporting drugs is a big problem, too. Recently Honduras held presidential elections, and the same president won. That it is a bad thing because Hondurans are losing their freedom of speech. No one can speak out against the decisions that are being made by the president or they will be killed.
Is there a path to American citizenship for someone who is here under DACA?
Currently there is no way to gain American citizenship through DACA. I want to go through the process the correct way. In other words, I could get citizenship by marrying an American, but I don’t wish to do that because I do not want to marry for papers. Many Hispanics have done this process and accomplished their citizenship, even though it does take many years to complete. When I marry I want it to be with the person I truly love and not the one who is going to give me papers.
What is the financial toll of this situation?
Together my dad and I spend around $1000 every 18 months to renew our status and to work legally. This does not include fees for biometrics and trip expenses. Once TPS and DACA protections are removed, there will be no job that will accept an immigrant worker without legal paperwork, which means my family would no longer have any income.
Worst case scenario--what happens to your family if DACA and TPS are revoked?
The worst case scenario that could happen is that my parents will be deported to Honduras first, and then in one year I will be deported if DACA is not renewed. We are trying to find the best plan on how to live once we know what is going to happen. There isn’t a way around getting separated because we want my four siblings, who are American citizens, to continue their studies and to live in a place they are familiar with and are safe. My siblings would live with me for that year, and then I have no idea what will happen with my brothers and sister. We are trying to stay strong for them because what they feel is going to be worse than what we are feeling. Right now we are in a world of ifs.
What is the emotional toll of this situation?
I try my best to keep my feelings inside of me. I have learned to stay strong and work hard. My childhood was not the same as a young Americans is, and I have learned to mature faster than an average child. I never went to a sleepover or out to movie nights with friends. I never complained to my parents that I didn’t have the things you had because it just was how it was. Why put more worries in their minds when they have work and us their children to care for? Things that you might treasure don’t even enter my mind because I am most worried about my family and not things. Being an immigrant has been very hard because I don’t have the opportunities you do.
The hardest factor that really hurts me is that being deported is not a joke, and it separates families. As I am about to graduate from high school, I am no longer thinking about going to college but instead looking for a stable job to see how I will be able to provide for the needs of my family if TPS is not renewed for my father. I have lived in the real adult world ever since I was 10 – caring for my siblings, translating for my parents, going to meetings, and working hard at my studies. Being a ten year old and having so many responsibilities was hard. I didn’t always know what to do, but I was always trying my best for my family.
I have learned that showing who you are no matter if they like you or not is always the best. Integrity is key to survival in a country you are not from but have been raised in your entire life. Please understand that if a student or young adult needs your help it is because they are responsible for so many things a young child or student should not be. As a child you should be able to grow, learn, play, and laugh like any other. As an immigrant I use my voice to give testimony for those who don’t have a voice to speak of their hardships.
What do you wish people knew about immigrant families?
I would like them to know that we come to the U.S. to search for a better living. We work hard. I am a hardworking, lovable, honest person and always will be. We come here to work hard for a dream we are not able to accomplish in our own country. If DACA is not extended, then I will have to give up my dream of becoming a nurse and will be forced to return to a country where I don’t even have a home to return to.
Have your feelings about the United States changed throughout this experience?
My feelings have changed slightly knowing that in the Constitution it says that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and that it is not equal for everyone in the U.S. At the same time I do appreciate the years I’ve been here because I have learned so much. I would be very disappointed if I would have to be deported because I have been raised here in the U.S. I can honestly say I feel like a citizen of the U.S. because I have been here for so long and have always followed the laws, and I believe I have earned the right to live in the United States with freedoms like anybody else.