With August just around the corner, many young dreamers can claim the 15th as their “DACAmented” anniversary. The 15th will mark the first anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACAmented individuals are granted temporary relief from deportation, and given work authorization, and the ability to receive a driver’s license. According to reports released by the United States Center for Immigration Services (USCIS) 557,412 DACA applications were received between August 15, 2013-June 30, 2013 with an estimated 900,000 individuals who were eligible for the program.
Of those 557,412 applicants, almost 75 percent were approved for DACA. El Observador had the opportunity to interview three DACA recipients to hear their stories that are just the beginning of their American Dream.
“I remember exactly when the DREAM act had actually failed in Congress and I felt so devastated because I felt like there is no way I’m going to get a job anytime soon,” said Karen Gonzalez, a current DACA recipient.
“I felt so demoralized, I hadn’t started my career. I was basically running through a tunnel and seeing no light.” Gonzalez, now works for a state assembly member, has finally found the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. She recalls interviewing for her current work position and the interviewer questioning her on the variety of jobs on her resume. She then explained to her interviewer that she is DACAmented.
Too often a picture is painted that most immigrants are low skill workers coming to the United States to seek labor related work due to their lack of education. For Gonzalez and her family, that was not necessarily the case. Both of her parents worked as accountants in Mexico City, her father even working for Procter and Gamble in the past. Despite their college education backgrounds “it just wasn’t enough to make it. Their career wasn’t moving and the situation was getting worse economically,” said Gonzalez.
Throughout college Gonzalez worked as a dental assistant to fund her education at San Jose State University. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Since receiving work authorization she immediately found a position in her field of study.
“It’s really important for professionals, and for people who are in careers that don’t usually tell people that we’re undocumented, explain our situation.” said Gonzalez. “The typical immigrant is not walking around with a “sombrero and chanclas.” We are look like everyone else; we are professionals; we are Harvard grads; we work in government.”
With border crossings and immigration issues making headlines, it is becoming commonplace for dreamers to publicly announce their undocumented status. Most notably, Jose Antonio Vargas, an immigration activist, who was detained, then later released, at an immigration checkpoint in Texas. Gonzalez noted that it is “so surreal” that the same situation could have easily happened to her.
Like Gonzalez, another San Jose State University graduate, Alejandro Cruz, found opportunities through work authorization. It only took Cruz, a Bachelors of Social Work graduate, two weeks after graduation to find employment in his field of study.
Cruz, originally from Oaxaca,Mexico works as a family specialist helping children at the county level. Before DACA, Cruz worked in multiple restaurant positions from dishwasher to server for nearly a decade. Cruz recalled that it was difficult to find work since he was unable to reveal his immigration status. Arriving in the country at age 13, Cruz said he is “Mexican-American.”
“I am more Mexican than American. I can say that because my roots come from Oaxaca. That’s where I was raised, but I am American. I pay my taxes; I went to school; I paid all my dues; I’ve never been to jail,” said Cruz. Cruz, like all DACA recipients, must meet a specific criteria of moral character, specifically : Have not been convicted of a felony or multiple or serious misdemeanors and not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
“It’s time for us Latinos that have the opportunity to get DACA to prove them wrong now. It’s time to show them that we have that drive to be able to succeed in our field,” said Cruz of all DACA recipients and of DACA opponents misconceptions.
Echoing Gonzalez and Cruz sentiments about more opportunities, Jesus, who chose to only use his first name, also found himself in his dream career path through DACA.
“There are so many more doors open. There are much more opportunities for me to take advantage of,” said Jesus. Jesus graduated in 2011 with a Bachelors degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in marketing from a university in southern California. At the age of ten, Jesus and his family left a small town in the state of Michoacan, Mexico to journey to the United States.
Jesus worked in the restaurant industry for most of his work life, seven years, holding cashier to server positions. Jesus recalled working full time to pay for college tuition and other expenses since undocumented students were unable to received financial aid. His entire college career, he was a full time worker and full time student.
He waited for two years after he graduated college to receive the opportunity to work in a position related to his field of study. “After graduating, I felt frustrated because I felt like all that work was for nothing,” said Jesus. Today, Jesus works as a personal banker with plans to continue his education in an MBA program to become an investment banker.
Gonzalez, Cruz, and Jesus are the faces of DACA. They are young professionals simply beginning their careers, working towards achieving their American dream. Soon they will renew their status for the first time to continue on their journey of success.