Story by Allexis Gonzalez
With the 2016 Presidential Election in its beginning stages, beneficiaries of DACA question whether the standing of the policy is dependent on the victory of a candidate partial to their plight.
According to the American Immigration Council, since its injunction in 2012, the number of applicants for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has been growing and the scope of its influence has broadened. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that of these growing numbers about 17,000 DACA beneficiaries are located here in Utah.
For DACA recipients, sometimes referred to as Dreamers, the outcome of the election could potentially mean an expansion of the current policy to include a pathway to citizenship or mean the policy being repealed all together.
With so much hanging in the balance for these Dreamers, many are finally finding their voices and coming forward with personal stories of where their lives were before DACA and how the policy has so positively and deeply impacted their lives. Three such of these Dreamers, here in Utah, shared their stories.
Mari Gomez, a 25-year-old DACA beneficiary, opens up about where her life was prior to receiving DACA and where she is now.
“For the longest time, I actually didn’t know what my legal standing was. I knew it wasn’t totally right, but my parents had never given me details about what that meant,” Gomez said. “It wasn’t till my senior year in high school, when I wanted to start applying for academic scholarships for college and federal financial aid that I found out where I really stood legally.”
After having worked for four years toward scholarships she was banking on to get her through college, Gomez realized that not only had her work been for naught, she might not even be able to apply to any colleges because of her lack of a Social Security number.
Gomez says she didn’t get the “fun” senior year most 17-year-olds look forward to because she was weighed down with the sobering reality that her future and goals as she had pictured them might never happen. As the deadlines for college applications approached, Gomez made a last-minute decision to send her applications in without providing a Social Security number.
“It was a scary decision but I knew I had to at least try,” Gomez recalled.
The risk paid off. She was accepted into Utah State University but she was now faced with the reality that she had no way to get a job to pay for school, much less make the move from Salt Lake City to Logan and begin living on her own.
That summer, Gomez found a job as a nanny in Logan that would allow her to support herself and partially pay for tuition.
“I got lucky finding a job that technically pays under the table without being suspicious or looked-down on. But I still wasn’t making enough to pay for a year’s worth of schooling,” Gomez said. “I’d go Fall Semester and take Spring Semester off so I could pay for [the next] Fall Semester.”
Gomez says that it was discouraging not being able to keep up with her peers and embarrassing having to think up excuses to explain away her absence from Spring Semester, but she was determined to make it to graduation — even if with a degree she still didn’t have the means to work legally.
After four years of on-and-off schooling, and watching her classmates reach that graduation podium while she slowly chugged along, Gomez celebrated along with others like her at the passing of DACA.
“I can’t even describe how I felt that day, but overjoyed comes to mind. I felt light as a feather. Like my whole future had suddenly opened up for me,” Gomez said.
Now, three years later, Gomez obtained a degree in Special Education and is currently working as a special education teacher at a local school in Sandy.
Amalia Rodriguez, another local Dreamer, tells of her experience of losing her mother, who was still in Nicaragua, before DACA passed.
“She was my everything,” Rodriguez said. “When she passed away in 2008, my heart was broken, but what made it worse was that I hadn’t been able to be there to say goodbye, and I couldn’t be there to pay my final respects. It was like a hole had been ripped in my heart, and I had no way to ease the pain. No one should have to miss the passing of their mom.”
Rodriguez believes that had DACA made it through just a couple of years earlier, she might have been able to get special permission to see her mother one last time, but she’s grateful the policy finally became a reality regardless. Currently, Rodriguez is pursuing a degree in business at Brigham Young University.
“She always wanted me to be a successful business woman in this country, and I’m honoring her memory by going after that dream with dedication and passion,” Rodriguez said.
Romina Pastorini, a 26-year-old Uruguay native, says that DACA has completely changed her life. Prior to its passing, Pastorini spent her teen years working under the table at any of the jobs she could get. She applied and was accepted to LDS Business College without providing a Social Security number but was struggling to make ends meet and eventually had to put school on hold.
Pastorini relates that the most difficult part of her situation was not being able to control her own destiny, or have the same opportunities as the peers she had grown up with.
“I always felt different. I knew my worth didn’t come from my legal standing, but it was still something that weighed on my shoulders,” Pastorini said. “I couldn’t relate to or truly fit in with my peers because of my constant worry that I wouldn’t be able to move forward in my education or employment. My biggest fear was that I would become stagnant because of my legal situation.”
When DACA passed, Pastorini was in shock. She had gotten used to her situation and learned to be atpeace with the cards life had dealt her, but when the policy passed, old dreams suddenly seemed plausible again.
“Right when I got DACA, I applied for a legitimate job and started back at school. Without government assistance, school is expensive. I couldn’t have done it without having a solid job, and I couldn’t have a solid job without legal standing,” she said.
Currently, Pastorini is pursuing a degree in psychology at Utah Valley University with the hopes of entering the social work field upon graduation.
Not everyone sees DACA as an all-encompassing positive policy, however.
Margaret West of Provo says that while she thinks Dreamers are “good kids” she still thinks there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, “even if you didn’t make the choice yourself.” According to Margaret, there’s no need to expand DACA to include a pathway to citizenship and if whoever takes the presidential seat at the end of the elections, decides to repeal the policy it wouldn’t be unfair or problematic.
With the future of DACA hanging in the balance Gomez, Rodriguez, and Pastorini all shared the common hope that the public, and the future presidential candidates, will see the good the policy has brought about.
“DACA has made opportunity an option,” says Pastorini. “I know I might not get everything I hope for, but the chance to have the opportunity to try is everything. That’s what DACA is for me — opportunity. And isn’t this the land of opportunity?”
Filed under: Student-Journalists |