Undocumented. Unafraid.

Story by ASHLEY PARK

Photos by GIOVANNI CARDENAS

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Life for undocumented immigrants has revolved around uncertainty and uneasiness for many years. The constant worry of getting legal jobs to the unspeakable fear of being deported are some of the harsh realities for undocumented immigrants. So, when former President Barack Obama introduced DACA, otherwise known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, it created an overwhelming sense of liberation for undocumented young adults who entered the United States illegally as minors. The program promised the safety for these undocumented students and young adults to attend school and work legally as long as they met certain standards. This small step in the right direction was considered a huge win for immigrants.

That sense of relief came to an abrupt end on September 5, 2017 when President Donald Trump announced his plans to end DACA. The announcement was met with harsh criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, but the decision to push out DACA is seemingly still in motion. This decision means that many of the 800,000 people that were benefitting from DACA are now stuck in limbo without any comfort due to the Trump administration’s flip-flopping.

However, the main source of fear seems to stem from the initial application of DACA. All the private, in-depth information that was provided about the undocumented young adults and their family are now in the hands of a government that has shown minimal signs of sympathy for immigrants.

Amy, whose name was changed to protect her privacy, is one of those students who are fearful for their family and future.

Amy arrived to the United States with her parents from Mexico when she was just four years old. Her parents, who worked at a clothing manufacturing company, were laid off due to the high demand of jobs and lack of decent compensation.

“From what I heard from [my parents], they had to work long hours but got paid really poorly,” said Amy. “I remember my abuela taking care of me a lot because they always had to work.”  

As most immigration stories go, with no more job and a seemingly bleak future in Mexico, Amy’s parents decided to move to the United States for a richer life and better opportunities for their only child.

“I was really young when we moved and I didn’t understand it,” explained Amy. “I only really knew I was like this real-life immigrant when I was in high school and could understand it better.”

Even then, Amy didn’t feel any limitations when it came to her ability as a student. She was taking mostly advanced classes at school and was considered bright and hardworking. She also did the same activities as normal American teengers like going to the mall with friends, attending school basketball games, and even trying out for a role in her school play.   

However, when Amy started applying for colleges, she was reminded by her parents how important it was for her to apply for DACA.

“I thought it was something that was going to help me and my future,” said Amy. “I thought it would be worth it.”

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With the increasing stories of deportation in the media, Amy is more concerned about her parent’s safety more than her own.

“The application made us put everything,” Amy said. “Where we live, where we came from, when we came… I might be safe for now but what about my family? My worst nightmare would be if I ever came home to find my parents or my neighbors just gone.”

Jackie Giraud, a recent graduate of CSULB, is also a DACA recipient who worries for her parents and younger siblings. Giraud’s father, who was a business owner with a PhD, worked hard to maintain a “middle class” lifestyle for the family in Guadalajara. Giraud and her two younger siblings even attended a bilingual private school while living in Mexico. However, she knew that her family was facing financial troubles when they were forced to suddenly uproot their life and move to a much smaller home in the United States in October 2006 when she was in 7th grade.

“I only got to say goodbye to my grandpa and nanny,” said Giraud. “Since then, we have not been to Mexico. We left everything behind.”

Even after the hardships of adjusting to a new lifestyle and experiencing culture shock, Giraud and her family’s struggles were just beginning.

“My family suffered a lot,” explained Giraud. “My dad had a hard time finding a job.  His degree didn’t mean anything here. My mom loved being a homemaker, but when my dad could not make rent at our apartment, she started to work. I rarely saw her. My parents fought all the time about that, but there was nothing we could do.”

Giraud remembers having to console her younger siblings when those fights would get big, but never being able to call the police to break it up in fear of them being deported. Decent healthcare was out of the question for them as well. When her younger sister broke her hand, her parents weren’t able to take her to the ER in fear of demand of a non-existent social security number.

So when the DACA program was announced in 2013, Giraud applied right away while attending Santa Ana College.. Her family was not able to afford the $495 fee and separate attorney fees, so she took the risk of filing the extensive applications and forms herself. Once she knew everything was processed correctly, she was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.

“It showed me that someone in government wanted me to stay and succeed,” said Giraud. “It helped me realize that there is a purpose for me and that I belong here. Having DACA really gave me the opportunity to contribute and live to my full potential. My parents finally felt that all their sacrifice meant something . . . that in the end, their kids will be successful.”

As soon as news of the rescinding of DACA came to light, Giraud felt an all too familiar sense of doubt start to overwhelm her.

“I work, go to school, volunteer,” said Giraud. “I help people. I did as I was asked: pay taxes and not be a criminal. I will lose my driver’s license, car, credit history, whatever financial gain I had will be gone.”

Even more than materialistic belongings being taken away, it’s the uncertainty for her future, as well as her family’s, that overwhelms her fears.  

“My family comes to me for answers and I did not have one for our future,” said Giraud. “As a person, I felt like I failed because I might not be able to live up to my best potential. I have until 2019 to figure out what to do with my life. Mexico is so distant from me now, and I want to stay [in the US]. I want to contribute and grow here and be part of the broken political system and actually make a change.”

Making a change and fighting the good fight is arguably the main goal for many DACA recipients.

Dilan Moreno, a 22-year-old machinist, remembers his own struggles of being an undocumented immigrant.

“I was brought to the US at the age of 3,” said Moreno. “I lived my whole life here in Anaheim. To me, California is my home, and the fact that I was an immigrant didn’t actually hit me until I got to high school.”

Moreno was signing up to join his freshman football team when the application asked for his social security number. Thinking that his parents would be able to help him out with the form, he took it home to gather more personal information about himself. That’s when his parents exposed him to the truth.

“My parents told me that they brought me here so I can have a better future, a better education, and work my way up,” said Moreno. “They told me that I don’t have the same citizenship or the same opportunities that people that are born here have… I remember feeling a lot that day. I felt a little down, a little sad, a little upset… but I understood.”

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That conversation was what drove Moreno and instilled a strong work ethic in him. He started working weekends at a swap meet and started to get paid “under the table.” His hours were from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday for two years, and was paid $80 each weekend for over 20 hours of work. Eventually his responsibility and work ethic was noticed by his neighbor, a manager at Marshall’s, and he worked there for the next two years while getting paid minimum wage, which was a big step up from his previous job.

He has taken great strides to reach where he is now- a machinist, an inspector, and an apprentice for programming at his current job, thanks to DACA.

After working so hard, Moreno was crushed to hear the news about DACA.

“I remember actually finding the news out when I was on my lunch break,” said Moreno. “My day completely flipped when I found out that everything was going to be terminated.”

Even his parents were left speechless with the news.

“I felt like my parents didn’t really know what to tell me,” explained Moreno. “It was like, ‘How can I tell my son that? How can I tell him that everything that he worked for will be taken away?’”

With the gnawing feeling of uncertainty left Moreno wanting to make a change; he decided to attend a protest in Santa Ana, something that he usually shied away from, to stand up for his fellow undocumented immigrants.

“I remember every chant that we said,” said Moreno. “I remember screaming it at the top of my lungs to be heard and it felt so good. I felt a lot better knowing that I was there for what I believed in.”

In spite of all the fear and uncertainty,Moreno embodies a larger-than-life boldness and hopefulness.

“Even if DACA is terminated, I’m going to keep fighting, I’m going to keep dreaming,” said Moreno. “I have goals and I’m going to accomplish them. I’m going to remain motivated and focused. Our voices are going to be heard. I know it will be.”