Feeling insecure: Childhood immigrants in Junction worry about their future in America
It took a snowstorm, a sick child, an executive order and 29 years for Eliana, a Grand Junction resident, to learn how to drive.
Eliana, 33, immigrated to the United States with her parents in 1996 when she was 9 years old.
She is one of nearly 800,000 people in the United States who are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump ordered the end of DACA by March and instructed Congress to find a permanent legislative solution to the issue.
When DACA was first enacted, Eliana was hesitant to apply because she was afraid of giving the government so much personal information.
That changed in 2013, when she had to walk 4 miles in a snowstorm to take her sick child to the doctor because no one could give her a ride.
“I got DACA so I could take care of my kids,” she said.
Being in the program “was almost like feeling normal,” Eliana said. “You grow up here and you feel like a citizen but without the status, so it feels like you’re almost normal but not quite there.”
Her most distinct memories of living in Mexico are memories of poverty. Her parents would add water to milk to make it last longer because they couldn’t afford to buy more. Her shoes had holes in them, and most of her family’s food was given to them by other relatives.
Now Eliana has a job, owns a car and pays taxes. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school, and she wants to go back to college, because she couldn’t finish her degree without a valid Social Security number.
She has been trying to become a U.S. citizen since 2000.
With the future of DACA uncertain, Eliana is still thinking about her kids first. Her 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter are both citizens and only speak English.
For their sake, Eliana doesn’t turn on the news at home anymore or talk about current events with her husband.
When Trump was running for election, she tried to talk to her children about the possibility that she might have to move back to Mexico. It didn’t go well.
“It’s been a real struggle for them,” she said. “It’s been hard to see their grades go down because they’re so worried that mommy’s not going to be here.”
Eliana did not want to use her real name for this article because she is afraid of what might happen if people find out about her immigration status.
“I don’t want people to tell me mean things in front of my kids when I’m grocery shopping or when I go to the mall. I want them to be kids and be happy, because that’s what they deserve,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m being punished or it’s (my parents’) fault, but our decisions have consequences. The decision that they made, the consequence is me being in this situation and my kids being in this situation.”
Life in Mexico and life in Grand Junction feel like two different worlds for Juan.
“I remember the dirt and the violence and my family, a little bit,” he said.
Now a 17-year-old high school senior, Juan came to the United States in 2005, when he was 5 years old.
Juan didn’t apply for DACA until the fall of 2016 and was approved in January.
He applied for the program because his mom wanted him to have work experience, and he wanted to have his own money and be able to help out at home.
Juan wants to go to college, study biology, go to medical school and join the U.S. Navy. He wouldn’t mind a driver’s license, too.
“Part of me is sad about DACA, but I saw this coming prior to the election, with (Trump’s) comments about immigrants, that we’re bringing drugs and violence to the streets,” he said.
Juan said he hears similar comments about immigrants at school.
“I take it to heart a lot. I know how to control my emotions now but if I was a little younger I’d probably be like, let’s go have a fight. Now, I’ll tell them my story and sometimes they’ll have a change of heart, but sometimes people won’t hear it. And if that’s the case, it’s like, don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, you go your way and I’ll go my way.”
Juan said he doesn’t regret signing up for DACA, and he’s hopeful that Congress will find a solution that allows DACA recipients to stay in the United States.
“We’re all over, even if people don’t know it,” he said. “We’re kids, and some of us work two jobs, go to high school and still plan to go to college. We’re hard-working and we have to be, because that’s what DACA is for. We have to prove ourselves twice as much as ordinary kids, because we’re stereotyped by the color of our skin or where we’re from. But we just want to make a living.”
Mario doesn’t have any memories of living in Mexico. The 17-year-old high school senior immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was 8 months old.
His parents are both the oldest siblings in large families, and both stopped going to school when they were 11 years old.
“My parents wanted a better opportunity for us kids and they wanted to live a greater life over here, because they knew in their hearts it would be better for us,” he said.
Mario has always known his immigration status, but it wasn’t until he was 12 years old that he started thinking about how it would impact his future.
“It was around seventh or eighth grade when I realized maybe I needed to set up a future for myself so I could set myself up for success later on,” he said.
Mario applied for DACA in 2014, when he was a freshman, and he didn’t have any hesitations about it.
He worked during the summer to pay for the $500 application fee, and he wants to go to college — University of Notre Dame, if he can get a higher SAT score — and study computer technology.
While Mario doesn’t feel pressure from his family to succeed, he does put pressure on himself.
“I do feel the need to become better, because I want to take all of my opportunities and make them the best I can, to make myself a better person,” he said. “Having that (DACA) status makes me realize all the good things I have in front of me.”
Mario tries not to think about what will happen if DACA ends and he can’t get residency or citizenship.
“I know that something will be figured out, because you have to have compassion for other people,” he said. “I think all of us Dreamers have to unite stronger than before so we can get our own citizenship or even residency. We don’t want to steal anyone’s jobs, we just want to contribute to the community and make this country great again.”