Many of us likely know people who are DACA recipients, but they may not feel safe enough to tell anyone other than close friends and family about their status.
Meet Lara. Lara’s parents, hoping for a better life, brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was one year old. Lara is a DACA recipient. An Indivisible East Bay member interviewed her a couple of days after Trump announced his decision to terminate DACA. This is Part One of Lara’s story.
How are you feeling?
I’m okay. Trump’s made it very clear that his interest is not about the people—it’s about whatever makes political sense to him. I wasn’t surprised. He said, “Don’t worry Dreamers, you don’t have anything to worry about”–I had hopes that when he said we didn’t have a lot to worry about, that we actually didn’t have a lot to worry about, but I should have known.
I’m okay now. I’ve cried it out, screamed it out, spoken with a lot of other DACAmented folks and Dreamer students and, it’s disappointing and discouraging, but we’ve been here before. We’re just going to have to find a way to survive and keep going. I’m in a good place. It helps when people who are outside of your DACAmented community offer hope and are supportive.
Did you go to any of the protests?
I didn’t, and one of the reasons why I don’t do those anymore is because if anything happens, not of my doing but if something were to go bad, if alt-right people show up, if there’s a confrontation and the police show up, I know what’s going to happen to me. I can’t afford to risk deportation. If I was still working in a restaurant, still renting a room in a poor neighborhood, or wasn’t married, then maybe. But now I have a great apartment, an awesome job, and am married, so I have much more to lose. I think of those things and can’t risk losing them over a protest. Not to talk down to those who chose to participate and are in my same situation, but that is a risk I no longer choose to take.
Do things feel worse now?
Yes. Because before when we would protest and rally, there weren’t people waiting to physically fight us and there weren’t SWAT police with guns pointed at us. There weren’t agents from ICE waiting to round us up, the way they are now. We always knew it could happen but now there’s a militarized cop presence. We didn’t have to worry about crazy white guys showing up with swastikas. The concerns were always there in the back of our minds, but they weren’t in our face the way they are now. It’s not worth me risking my job, my actual life, putting my husband in that position, stressing my parents out, over a movement that is always going to be there. I just can’t afford to be the one getting arrested any more.
Are you careful about how you reveal your status?
Most people who are close to me know because I’ve been so vocal these last few years. So, I’m not afraid of people seeing my Facebook posts or my views being seen or heard by the public. All the information I share is never my personal, private info. It’s more about information and resources to assist others. I’m very careful about what I do post and am selective about who I accept on my FB page.
When you graduated from High School, what did you think your future was going to be?
My dream was to go straight to a university and not waste time with community college, and become a lawyer. But discovering my status brought all that to a complete stop. It’s the story of most of us. Every single dreamer I know, we all have the same story. We didn’t know until the end of high school when we tried to apply for drivers’ permits. Otherwise, when do you ever ask your parents for your social security number? Until you need your driver’s license. When I was told that there is no social security number, that I can’t have a way of acquiring a license and I can’t go to university because I don’t qualify for financial aid and I don’t qualify for scholarships, that was just like wait, what do you mean? But I’ve been here in the US my entire life. I asked them: “Can’t I just apply to become a citizen?” My parents explained that no, because you’re Mexican–the laws are different.
I had known people who had come here from other countries who had become legalized quickly, but saw over the years how much harder it was for people from Mexico. It was devastating. So I decided, I’m just going to graduate now. I’d always been ahead in my classes, so as a junior I was already taking the 4th year of English. I took economics and government over the summer and graduated a year early so I could get a head start on community college. Since I knew it might take me longer than most people to go through community college, I started earlier and finished in two years at Delta College in Stockton. But even with that, I learned that nobody wanted to hire me with just an AA and especially without a social security number. I decided I had to go to a university and get a degree, but I also needed to work, so I started working a full time job and a part time job. I enrolled at De Anza College and got a paralegal degree. I thought to myself, if I can’t be a lawyer, at least let me be a paralegal and get my foot in the door. And no one would hire me because I didn’t have a social security number. The attorneys would all say: “You know you seem like a great girl with lots of enthusiasm, but I can’t hire you.”
Just attorney after attorney–it was devastating.
“Just give me a chance, pay me cash, you can pay me a lot less than the other paralegals,”I would say.
But they all said “No, it’s too risky, how can I as an attorney hire you under the table?”
One attorney finally gave me a chance–she gave me an internship and was also the attorney who did my initial DACA application. so it wasn’t until 2012 that I got a real chance. I was her intern and we did a lot of DACA cases and family law. I thought I wanted to do family law, but working with her, I realized I could never be an attorney. It was a good experience because it made me realize law wasn’t what I should be doing in life. It also made me see that many people needed help finding resources. A lot of these small cases were due to the lack of information.
So even though I started at Delta College, then years later went back to attend De Anza, I couldn’t get a real job so I kept all the other jobs–waitressing, being a nanny, cleaning houses. When DACA passed, I said okay, this is my chance to go back to school. When I do get my degree, I’ll have a chance to have a real job. Through AB 540, I could pay resident fees but it was hard to get scholarships. Thankfully, the California Dream Act had just passed, so I was able to apply for financial aid for the first time. [Ed note: Under California law AB 540, certain non-resident students are exempt from paying non-resident supplemental tuition. A student granted an AB 540 exemption is charged in-state tuition and fees].The lawyer convinced me to go back to school. By the time I’m done, I’ll be able to work and that’s what happened.
When your parents told you about your status, were you upset?
Oh yes, I was furious! All my plans went out the window completely. Not just the driver’s license, but everything. I was mad at them for a long time. Not having legal status affected so many little things. I remember when my friends turned 18 and wanted to go dancing or celebrate at a club, I couldn’t go because I didn’t have a California ID. In my 20s I never went to a bar or club that wasn’t Hispanic-related or a smaller venue where they would accept my Mexican consulate ID. I never joined my friends anywhere because I didn’t have the “proper” ID. Forget about going out to dance with friends, a Vegas trip or a vacation somewhere. Every time someone wanted to go out and celebrate, I would have to call the place and ask if they accepted the Mexican ID. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself and have them embarrass me again, which had happened before. Not all places accept it even though it’s a government issued ID. It’s where my understanding of racial discrimination first started.
To go from the kind of work you were doing — under the table, unprotected — to working in a professional capacity, what did that mean to you?
I served as a waitress for 11 years — from when I was 20 to 31. I worked at multiple restaurants: Denny’s, Applebee’s, mom and pop restaurants, catering jobs. And of course, those jobs are honorable, but they’re hard, physically straining jobs. Long hours and for years I worked at two or more restaurants, back to back. Especially if (customers) know you’re undocumented, they can get away with more exploitation than with citizen employees. Last year was the first year I’d spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day with my family. I had worked every single holiday before last year, for over 10 years. Places like Denny’s never close. I never got to spend any of the holidays with my family, I always had to work.
Was that common to others or just undocumented folks?
Just to the undocumented folks. As long as you could get the hours on the clock…it was just so complicated. They could go back and change the hours that you worked. It was really hard to endure and especially because the people who come in, they think you’re just an object that is there to serve. You’re there to serve them, to the deepest definition of what it is to serve, and they always use you as a punching bag to let out their frustration.
It was really hard at the end when I was going to grad school because I would serve these people who would speak at me as though I were this ignorant, uneducated “thing” that was just there to bring them their extra ranch or diet no ice, when in reality I was busting my butt to work full-time there and be in grad school full-time. I wanted to say “You have no idea how hard I’m working and how hard I’m trying to make it.” But you can’t say that, right? You can’t say you’re not the ignorant person they think you are and they treat you as. I had to quit because I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so burned out. People don’t say “please and thank you” and it’s common for folks to not use manners with servers. I knew I was going to get fired if I didn’t quit, that I was going to snap, so I just quit at the end. But it’s really hard, especially on the holidays when all you want is to be with your family so bad. The pay is only minimum wage. You work for so many hours at minimum wage and tips.
Have you been back to Mexico?
No. I was born there and went back for one Christmas when I was 5 before things got hard at the border, and that was it. I never went back.
Being a young adult, it really sucked at first, driving without a license which meant that I would have to have a cheap car that I could afford to lose, because if they pull you over, they could impound your car. It was really common before DACA to have a cheap car and be ready to get the next one. Most places won’t give car insurance if you don’t have a social security number. You’d get ticketed for driving without a license and your car would be impounded, and then you’d be stuck. You still have to go to work, pick up your kids. It was really frustrating to know I couldn’t have a nice car. Just the constant fear — when a cop would pull up behind you — trying to look as “normal” as you can. But it’s hard when you can’t have a decent looking car, right? Because you make yourself stand out more by having a cheap-looking car. It’s like a never-ending circle of bad circumstances.
Do your parents feel like they made the right decision?
They have always carried guilt because of me. They wish they had come before I was born. They have always felt so bad for putting me in this situation. But they had no way of knowing — they were 20 years old when they came here, searching for the American dream. They could have never foreseen all this. It’s better here than there. At least here, you can have a decent place to live and food to eat, kids can have a decent education. Just the safety reasons alone make it worth coming over here. People don’t understand how bad it is in Mexico. It’s not just like they show you on TV–it’s actually a lot worse. They carried guilt for years and years and I probably didn’t make it any easier when I was a teen. Once I started seeing that those were the cards I was dealt, and that I had to make them work, I decided because I was the oldest of 5, I didn’t want my parents to worry about me. I never asked them for financial help, ever. I didn’t care if I had to have two jobs, I never wanted them to have to worry about me. They hated that I worked graveyard and they never saw me on holidays, but they were proud I was doing what I needed to do to survive. I wasn’t just feeling bad for myself. I just did what I had to do.
When DACA passed and I was able to go back to school, that alleviated a lot of their guilt and they felt glad I finally had a real chance. But now with what Trump’s done, they regret it all over again and feel guilt all over again for putting me in this situation. I keep telling them, you cannot blame yourself for this.
We’ll post Part 2 of Lara’s story next week. We’d love to hear your comments – you can leave them at this post, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.