Cristina C. – 23, Ontario, CA, Born in Chiapas, Mexico

Since my parents had already settled in the U.S., I lived with my aunt for two years until they were able to send for me and make arrangements for my border crossing – alone.

Not quite 12, I found a way through, not the first time, but on the second try. It was scary but rejoining my parents was all that mattered. My brother followed a few months later. Finally, the family was together. Now we all live together.

Many of my classmates at school had similar backgrounds so we shared our experiences as we learned English and concentrated on getting an education. By the time I got to high school, I realized that I wouldn’t qualify for university tuition assistance so I got a job in a fast-food restaurant and attended a community college. I was able to manage three classes at a time while continuing to work. It took me four years before I was able to transfer to a four-year university. By that time, financial aid for undocumented students was available, thanks to the California Dream Act. Now at Cal State San Bernardino, I’m working on a double major, a B.A. in Spanish and English literature, and hope to graduate in 2017. I don’t plan to stop there. My goal is a master’s in Spanish and a job teaching at a community college.

I qualified for DACA and was able to find a better job, something that relates to my career, tutoring Spanish and ESL students. With a scholarship from TheDream.US, I’m able to pay for tuition, books and transportation.

I will be the first in my family to attend college and receive a degree. Without the California Dream Act and DACA, I’m not sure how I would have overcome all the obstacles of being undocumented. I was able to get help with my education while working legally. Having a driver’s license was a lifesaver since my school was 30 miles away from home.

It still took hard work and a long time, but I didn’t give up. I intend to be a role model on how to persevere. I want to be a teacher and help others acquire the knowledge they need to succeed. Over the years, my own teachers and my diverse group of friends have encouraged me. Of course, my family has been my rock, especially my mom. Even my old-fashioned dad has come around to believe that I should get my education, that women must be as well prepared as men in this competitive world. I wanted to prove to my family that I could achieve the dreams they had for me when they left their home behind. I especially want to inspire young girls to dream big.

Fernando R (aka Clavillaso). – 29, Lynwood, CA, Born in Mexico

Only 13, I felt I had to leave home and find work in the U.S. to help my family. After a terrible accident, my mom totally debilitated. My father was a carpenter who didn’t earn much money.  My oldest sister seemed to take it on herself to take care of me, but I needed to take care of myself and my family.


Mithi DR. – 31, Los Angeles, CA, Born in the Philippines

It has taken me 26 years to become a legal resident, so I know far too much about deferred dreams. I first came to the U.S. with my family. Although we had hopes of sponsorship through a job for my father, things didn’t work out and we joined the ranks of the undocumented. I have two sisters and a brother, all of whom found paths to citizenship. Our family is very close and we are fortunate that we were never forced to separate.

When my mom was able to adjust her status, she sponsored me as her unmarried daughter under 21. After I turned 21, I aged out, falling into another immigration category with a much longer line — an additional nine-year waiting period. DACA provided an interim reprieve until I was declared a legal resident in August 2015.

Graduating from UCLA in 2006, I dreamed of becoming a physician. Being undocumented prevented me from even being allowed to apply to medical school and kept me from qualifying for federal financial aid. It was painful to put my dreams on hold, but I didn’t give up. Eventually, my DACA status opened a lot of doors for me, including the door to medical school.

Through the nine long years of waiting to get into medical school, I worked in research at UCLA and I published my work in respected academic journals. I am the first author of a piece on temperament in infants at risk of developing autism. I co-authored reviews on Latino health, which will soon appear in Oxford Bibliographies. As I continue my work on autism projects, I’m also a staff researcher at the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture.
In addition to my research interests, I am an active member of my community. I work as a peer mentor for a pipeline program called MEDPEP, guiding disadvantaged minority undergraduates toward their pre-health goals, and I serve as an advocate with Pre-Health Dreamers, a nationwide network of undocumented students seeking access to health careers.

It has been a long journey, but my experiences as an undocumented immigrant have only intensified my motivation to study medicine. My goal is to become a primary-care physician, practicing in disadvantaged neighborhoods and helping those who are so often neglected by the U.S. healthcare system.

I am a generous and loving person, and it makes me sad when I’m asked to justify my presence in this country. This is my home. I work hard to contribute to this country. And I’m just getting started.

Alfredo S. – 36, Pacific Grove, CA, Born in Mexico

When I first came to the States from Mexico in 1999, I stayed with a friend. I came on my own and spent days in the desert without food and water. I knew there was a job waiting for me so I could work and send money home. I returned to Mexico within a couple of years to get married and to bring my wife back across the border. The second trip was much easier. I now have three children. The oldest is 13 and the youngest five, all of whom were born in the U.S. I believe I would qualify for DAPA if it ever clears the courts.

In Mexico, I graduated from nursing school but I couldn’t make enough to help my mom after she and my father separated. Once settled in the States, my wife and I went to school to learn English. We made it a priority because we knew our future success depended on our fluency. We are making sure our children are bi-lingual both in the home and in our community.

My dream is to re-establish my nursing career by returning to school here through a state program that offers guidance in the renewal of vocational certification. It’s my calling to help people and there always seems to be a shortage of nurses. In the meantime, I support my family and my mom, who remains in Mexico, by working two jobs in a restaurant. Except for my brother, who lives here and helps me send money home, the rest of my family is still in Mexico. I miss them and worry about them because of the growing violence there.

I want my children to be safe and have all the opportunities this country provides.  I hope to make them proud by making the most of my own nursing background, even with all the obstacles I face in being undocumented. It’s also very important to me to give back to my community. I help others with translations so they can get proper medical and legal assistance. There is much more I can do once I’m allowed to continue my nursing career. I will work toward realizing my full potential. A path to citizenship would certainly make a difference.

Mayra H. – 24, Mount Vernon, NY, Born in Costa Rica

I was only six months old when I came to the States with my mother and siblings on a tourist visa to reunite with my father who was already working here. My immediate family was together again but we left aunts, uncles and grandparents behind – people I should have had in my life as I grew up. Getting here was not hazardous for us, but staying had its own perils with the constant fear of being deported and separated from my family. These experiences have profoundly shaped who I am and fueled my dedication to social justice.

I became a permanent resident in December 2014. It has been a long process. First I was undocumented, then I was DACA-mented with a temporary work permit, and now I have a green card. My younger sister was born in the States and my older brother became a naturalized citizen. He sponsored my parents who became legal residents and are soon to be U.S. citizens.

I have so many dreams. I want to be a writer, a mom, a community organizer, a teacher. I want to explore Costa Rica, the land of my birth. For now my immediate goal is to graduate and then teach. After receiving the Davis Putter scholarship, I’m now in my third year of studying public policy and literature at Sarah Lawrence College. My focus is on Latin American studies. I also actively train and support the members of Sarah Lawrence for Immigration Advocacy. I first came to Sarah Lawrence through an invitation from a dear friend to be a guest speaker about my work with United We Dream and the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

I’m a resilient and charismatic person – able to spread my good mood and sometimes my bad mood (ha-ha). I enjoy showing people how powerful they are and can be. I have an incredible emotional capacity that I’m still exploring as a young woman. I’m not afraid of being vulnerable because I feel my entire existence has been vulnerable.

As an undocumented immigrant, I found strength in bringing people together — leading youth organizing for the Florida Immigrant Coalition and Students Working for Equal Rights, serving as a project manager for the Trail of Dreams (Miami to DC for immigration justice), founding and coordinating the Lakeland Immigration Legal Clinic, leading efforts on the No Somos Rubios Campaign and traveling to Alabama to fight anti-immigration legislation, co-founding the Alabama Coalition for Justice there. I continue to serve as a board member for United We Dream.

I see myself as a defender of immigration and LGBT rights and I go where I’m needed and do what has to be done. I will continue to work for social justice because I want others to be able to hold onto their dreams, to realize their full potential.

Yuritzi G. – 36 (16 Stateside), Born & Living in Mexico. 


I was young, afraid and desperate to reunite with my family in the States so when asked at the border if I was a U.S. citizen, I said yes. And although I recanted immediately, I had broken the law and the punishment for this false statement is being barred from the States for life. At the time in 2001, I had no idea of the horrific consequences of my action. I was turned back after admitting I wasn’t a citizen but I managed to get across the border without inspection a few days later. I had been living in the States for four years but had returned to visit a dying grandfather. Now back with my mom, dad and three brothers, I went on with my life in Phoenix, not realizing that my momentary claim to citizenship would affect me for decades to come, maybe forever.

When I was 31, I met my husband Alex. He had just returned from his last tour of duty in Iraq. We fell in love and were married in 2010. He’s now a civilian flight instructor at a U.S. Air Force Base in Texas, training young USAF pilots. He has served his country for 30 years and is well respected as a decorated pilot in high-risk areas like Somalia, Bolivia, Colombia and Iraq.

One year after we were married, I had to leave the States because of my undocumented status. It was 10 years after the 2001 border-crossing attempt. Alex was able to get a posting with the State Department in South America so we could be together. As a military dependent, I’m allowed on any U.S. installation around the world where other families are welcome – every base except ones in the U.S. While stationed in Colombia in 2013, Alex applied for a visa for me with the U.S. Embassy. Our baby, born on the 4th of July in Mexico, became a U.S. citizen through my husband’s State Department application. However, I desperately needed a visa to be able to return with my husband to his next posting in Texas. Our request was denied citing my lifetime ban. It was heartbreaking.

Now I live in Mexico with our baby girl while Alex continues to serve his country in Texas. It’s hard on all of us. The baby has trouble remembering her father from one visit to the next. Though we Skype a lot, it’s not the same. There are no hugs and kisses. And we’re not safe where we are, not with all the kidnappings and murders in my region of Mexico.

Since Alex still works for the U.S. Air Force, he may be deployed outside the States. I can understand and accept our separation during these times. However, now he’s based in Texas and we’re forced to live apart because of something I recanted 14 years ago before I even met him. He shouldn’t be punished for my lapse of judgment. For the past three decades, he’s proven his dedication to serving his country. Alex comes from a Cuban-American family which has a history of service in the armed forces and as teachers and firefighters. He and I both love this country and just want to be together as a family.

For four years, Alex has petitioned the State Department, Texas congressional leaders and state officials. There seems to be no appeal for a lifetime ban, though there is some talk of an adjudication review. We are forever hopeful but our hopes are being constantly bashed by the bureaucracy. The State Department has consistently refused reconsideration of my case under 9FAM-Timely Retraction which would allow me to apply for a visa under a cumbersome and unpredictable 601-waiver process.

I’m not a terrorist. I’m a good person, wife and mother. If we hadn’t been forced to leave the country, we would have been eligible for a later ruling that granted military parole, allowing family members to stay with service members while their cases were being reviewed. We applied for this last February with a very persuasive package, including positive recommendations from high-ranking officers who serve with Alex. In the end, it didn’t matter. We were denied humanitarian parole in June. We were devastated.

My husband’s Air Force superiors have been most supportive, adding their letters of support to his petitions to lift my lifetime ban and allowing him to serve three weeks on and two weeks off so he can travel to Mexico to be with his family. Alex has three daughters from another marriage, two are in college and the 14-year-old lives with his first wife. Since they live in Texas, only a two-hour drive from the base, he’s able to see them on weekends. Alex is devoted to all his children.

I worry about my husband who continues to serve his country while being so tormented by his inability to get relief from the government he fights for. He just wants his family to be together.

That’s all we both want. I am so sorry that I lied to a border agent 14 years ago when I was simply trying to return to my family, but I’ve suffered enough and so have my husband and baby. I’ll do whatever it takes to prove I’m worthy of a visa. I’m 36 years old and have lived in the U.S. 16 of those years – almost half my life. Just as Alex has made his country proud, I promise to do the same.

Clarisa N, 20, Phoenix, AZ, Born in Durango, Mexico 

Dude, there are cops and dogs outside my house and a SWAT team has the street closed. This was what my cousin barked at me over the phone. I walked into my step- dad’s room to let him know, even though I didn’t think any of the commotion concerned my family. But it did and my stepdad’s face reflected his fear and worry. He handed me a gun and told me to hide in the guest room.

Up until that point, it had been just another hot summer Saturday morning. I was getting ready for my first job interview. But then came my cousin’s phone call. I was now holding a gun. Before I could move, the front door was forced open and police burst in. My step- dad told me to do as I was told which meant dropping the gun, putting my hands over my head and walking outside barefooted. In 100-degree temps on hot concrete, I sat with my hands behind my back in total shock.

The officers asked me if there was anyone else in the house like me with weapons ready to attack. I told them about my dangerous dogs and five kittens but they weren’t amused. My stepdad and I were put in a cop car and interrogated. I had no answers and kept believing everything was some kind of a mix-up. Our house was searched as we watched what seemed to be a bad movie. When my mom came home from work four hours later, she was upset but found a way to get me released from the police. My stepdad was arrested. His last words to me that day were, I’m sorry mija; I will explain. He was later sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

I will always remember that day, when I was 15, because of how quickly everything in my life changed through no fault of my own. With my stepdad’s conviction, my application for legal status was in jeopardy. I had lived in the States since I was five, but because I was brought here illegally, I had been trying to gain legal status. But it’s a very long, complicated and expensive process. Finally, after two years of gathering all the necessary paperwork and working with a lawyer, I received an appointment with the immigration office just before my 18th birthday. I was so excited and frightened. I had butterflies in my stomach as I waited for my number to be called in an office filled with police. The interview lasted 40 minutes and there were many questions about my family, especially my stepdad. I was nervous but hopeful. Notification of a decision would be mailed.

An approval letter meant I could have a life. It was everything to me. With residency status, I could get a driver’s license and Social Security card. I could work and go to college and apply for aid for my education and qualify for in-state tuition. It was the one thing that would open so many doors. Two months later, I received my approval letter for legal residency. It was a great day.

When my stepdad was sentenced to prison, all my plans were momentarily shattered but I picked up the pieces and started over. I just kept moving forward and was finally able to achieve my goal. Obstacles are a part of life but I won’t let them stop me. I know I have the strength to keep going and to make something of myself and to make my mom proud. I have finished three years in community college and I’m pursuing my dream of becoming a nutritionist and starting my own business. I hope to finance the rest of my education with income from my business. I want to teach people how important food is to health. I’m determined to make my life better and to help others.

Terremoto 502 (artistic name), 32, Los Angeles, CA, Born in Guatemala

My mother was already in the States and I missed her, but I had started my DJ career in Guatemala. Mom had made her move when I was only seven, leaving me in the care of my older sister. She kept asking me to join her and I finally relented because I’m not sure how you ever really say no to your mother. Shortly after, my mother arranged for a coyote to contact me. It was hard to leave my sister who had helped raise me. I faced a long, hard journey and knew anything could happen. I walked from Guatemala to Tapachula, Mexico. It took me a day and a half. I wore the soles off my shoes. So by foot and on a train, I made my way. Eventually I crossed the border at Tijuana in 2003. I was 20 in a new country with a new life.

Now my family is together except for my older sister. I haven’t seen her in 12 years. I have four brothers. Two were born here. My mom is a naturalized U.S. citizen and she petitioned for legal status for my older brother. For me to gain legal residency, I would have to return to Guatemala and wait for what could be years to enter legally. I might also be penalized for originally entering the country illegally. I wasn’t eligible for DACA. My only real hope is comprehensive immigration reform. Now that I’m a father myself, I’m more determined than ever to be here for my boy since I missed this as a child. I think I have a lot to offer my son, my family and my artistic community. I continue to pursue the DJ career I began in Guatemala. I focus my energy on my music and videos and growing my audience. I just hope I can one day become a U.S. citizen and continue to contribute my talent and dreams.

Yovany Diaz, 23, Alpharetta, GA, Born in Guerrero, Mexico

For much of my childhood, I yo-yoed between Mexico and the States, coming for the first time when I was two, back at five and returning to stay in 2000 when I was eight. This harrowing journey involved crossing the Rio Grande with my mom, aunt and brother. Praying we would make it, we held hands and slipped under the water. We did make it and have been here ever since.  My birthplace in Guerrero, Mexico, which is now famous for the disappearance of 43 students who clashed with local police. They are all believed dead. I could have been one of them.

From Texas I made it to Georgia where I went to school and graduated from high school in 2010. That’s when I started to feel stuck. Georgia bars the undocumented from its top five universities and requires out-of-state tuition fees in its other schools. I attended Freedom University for three years but it’s unaccredited, so even though I was accepted at New York Syracuse, I needed 30 credits to enroll and only had two transferrable credits that were accepted. When DACA was announced in 2012, I applied immediately and was able to secure the papers I needed to get a better job and was hired at Costco, a company I had long wanted to work for.  Now I work for Super Target as a produce merchant and volunteer with several immigration organizations to work toward reform. I live with my mom and two brothers, both of whom are U.S. citizens, making my mom eligible for DAPA.

I’m an aspiring American who works hard and believes I’ve earned a right to chase my dream of going to college and contributing to society. I must realize my full potential to help my family and my community. I’m determined to reapply to Syracuse and to join all the others like me who are fighting to take their rightful place in the U.S.

Jose Antonio M. – 19, Miami, Born in Nicaragua

Flying with an aunt, I came to the States in January 2001 from Nicaragua when I was only four. Though my thoughts were of Disneyworld, I was really brought to the States for needed medical care for an ear infection. While receiving treatment, I joined my mom who was already here. She had come alone overland in 1999, a trip arranged by coyotes, something I now know was very dangerous. I remember being astounded by all the lights of Miami – a bright and shining city filled with wondrous new things like escalators. My only memory of Nicaragua is a closed black gate. My mom had left to find work since there were no jobs in our hometown and my alcoholic father contributed nothing to the well-being of his four children. She had sent us money whenever possible, but being with her in the States was what I’d longed for.

Now with my mom and one brother in Miami, I fulfilled every child’s dream: to go to Disneyworld. But the dream was soon replaced with the harsh reality of everyday life in a trailer with my mom’s abusive boyfriend who became more threatening when he lost his job. Mom continued to insist we go to school. With no money and constant abuse, my mom finally gathered the courage to leave and make it on her own – an uphill battle with no education, professional experience or proper documents. Anything was better than living with a monster boyfriend and we scraped by on whatever work she could find and the junk we could scavenge. Before we could even get on our feet, my mom was arrested for drunk driving and was put on an ICE hold. Though my brother and I raised money for an attorney and the charges were dropped, my mom was sent back to Nicaragua when I was 15. We sold the car, lived with relatives and dropped out of school.

There was no hope. I had failed to save my mom and now I was lost and headed toward a failed life. That is until I met a couple active in immigration issues, including the 2010 Dream Walk. They took me under their wing and encouraged me to fight for my rights and to continue my education. When I was put in foster care, I was lucky enough to land in a good home, and when I aged out at 18 with some much-needed transition support, I began living on my own and attending college. I secured a green card, became a permanent resident and I’m now working toward citizenship in three years. My dream is to be a lawyer, a judge or a legislator — someone who can make a real difference in peoples’ lives. I have finally been able to visit my mom who now lives in Spain. I know how hard life was for her and that she did her best. I have now dedicated my life to giving back to my community and helping other immigrants like me.