Jacquelin S. –  26, Asheville, NC. Born in Mexico

There are so many things I want to do and I’m young and eager to make my way, but being Undocumented keeps holding me back. After graduation from high school, my only option was community college, taking a few classes while working at a local department store to pay for them. Over the years, I’ve wanted to become a teacher or social worker. I also have a real interest in biology, and as a biology teacher, I could combine careers; but first I have to get my degree.

I’ve been fortunate to have good teachers to inspire me and I have no intention of giving up, but I do get discouraged when I have so much to offer my community and a simple piece of paper keeps getting in my way. I want to help others, particularly children. Currently, I work as a receptionist at a local pediatrics health practice. I had volunteered at a free clinic in Wilmington and found I liked the healthcare field.

I’m on my own in Asheville having left my family in Wilmington to pursue studies at UNC, Ashville. I’m working full-time and plan to take classes as I can to pay for them. Right now I’m in my sophomore year. These are precious years for me and I’m being held back, not because of ability or desire, but because of a state law that won’t allow me to pay in-state tuition.

I applied for DACA in 2012, so at least I qualified for deferred action, which gives me a little more piece of mind. My older brother is also trying to get his degree and is encountering the same obstacles. We persist. We have to.

My parents brought us to the States in 1995 and my mom submitted her immigration paperwork in 2001, but has yet to hear anything. I have a younger brother who was born here so he’s a citizen, making my parents eligible to apply for DAPA if the Supreme Court upholds it.

I want to make my parents proud. I will find a way to finish school and realize my full potential. I owe it to them and to myself. I owe it to my community and to the country I love. This is home to me. It’s all I know. I will keep fighting for the acceptance I’ve earned. I consider myself an asset, someone who will enrich this country, who will make a positive difference.

It’s so sad that so many in power try to dim the lights of the Undocumented, to make us give up hope and feel not worthy. But I believe we will find a way to shine. I know I will.

Cesar C. –  26, Mesa, Arizona, Born in Mexico

My mom brought me to the U.S. when I was only five. I couldn’t speak any English but quickly taught myself the language, adopted the American culture and became loyal to the nation. What I saw was that diversity was promoted, that the American Dream was for everyone, regardless of skin tone.

As a child, I never asked myself, Am I legal? I didn’t wonder if I belonged in the country. I belonged in my family and that was all that mattered. My parents risked their lives to make a home for me in Arizona and I would grow to appreciate the enormity of their sacrifice as I grew older.

Approaching high school graduation, I came face-to-face with the fact that I was undocumented and couldn’t get a work permit or driver’s license and had very limited educational opportunities. Up until then I had just asked that people see the good in me. Now I needed a piece of paper to prove I was worthy of trying to make something of my life. It was a harsh awakening.

In 2006, while driving to church, my girlfriend and I were struck by an oncoming truck. Since I had no driver’s license, my citizen girlfriend was at the wheel. We were both badly hurt and were flown to Scottsdale-Osborn where we arrived in critical condition, fighting for our lives. And then our shared tragedy went in very different directions. While she received immediate, extensive care, I had to wait. The ensuing blood loss sent me into a coma and finally resulted in treatment because I fell into an acceptable category — a life-threatening condition. So my life was saved but the additional treatment needed to repair the damage done was not provided because my family couldn’t afford ongoing care. The fact that my two brothers were citizens meant that I received emergency AHCCS, but the expense was capped and any additional medicals costs were out-of-pocket. It was an impossible situation.

As I lay in a coma, the doctors told my mother, who was five months pregnant, that I couldn’t continue to receive care in that hospital. She begged for time, but after several days, my mom received a call that I was being transferred to a clinic in northern Mexico. She could come say goodbye. She arrived just as I was being transferred out of the hospital, deported out of the country in a comatose state. No consent had been given and I was underage and unconscious. My mom wasn’t allowed in the ambulance so she followed in her car trying to make her case that I shouldn’t be alone. Finally, she was allowed to join me. By the time we arrived at the clinic, I had developed a fever due to an infection from my care in Arizona. My mom stayed by my side night and day, and months later, I awoke from my coma, with no memory of the trauma and no ability to move. I tried to scream but the tracheotomy took my voice. I would eventually gain mobility and start to piece my life back together.

We had had to leave the clinic before I regained consciousness because it didn’t have the equipment needed to sustain my comatose state. With the help of family, we moved into a house belonging to my grandfather in southern Mexico and my mother cared for me. After I re-entered the conscious world, I began self-rehabilitation. When we had to move on in search of other housing and food, it was very hard on my mom and me. It felt like we were living in a foreign country, though we were shown many kindnesses, especially from my aunts on my father’s side. At some point, I attended immigration rallies because I knew firsthand what it was like to have your rights stripped away.

While surviving in Mexico, my driving desire was to go home. My home was in Mesa, Arizona and I was eventually able to slip across the border with the assistance of coyotes. My mom joined me a week later. When we arrived at my mom’s sister’s house, I was so happy I cried. I was home.

Within a year, I returned to high school to finish my education. It was a struggle but I did it. I hope to continue my education, especially now that Arizona allows Undocumented state residents to pay in-state tuition. I received some ongoing medical care through my aunt’s work insurance. However, I still have health issues from the accident and money is always a problem.

After a long search, I have been able to find work, thanks to qualifying for DACA. I help families become financially independent as I try to establish my own independence by getting better health-wise. If I can regain what I once had, I can rebuild my life and realize my potential. I hope that my love of life, my kind heart and my tenacity will serve me well.

At 16, my entire life was changed in a moment through no fault of my own. The accident and almost dying because of being denied proper care were traumatic enough, but being deported while critically ill and comatose have left additional scars that may never heal. Despite how I was treated, I love this country and will work hard to make the most of my life and to improve the lives in my community. I know better than most that immigration reform is a matter of life and death.

Enrique C. –  21, Austin, Texas, Born in Mexico

I’m passionate about what I do because I’m able to see the direct impact I make on people’s lives. I work as an advocate for immigrants in a nonprofit and a private law firm. Though I don’t yet have a law degree, I’m an accredited representative and can guide clients through the complicated legal process. In the nonprofit, I head two departments: one focuses on securing DACA documentation and another concentrates on U visas for undocumented crime victims. I also help with special juvenile petitions and family petitions, mainly for same-sex couples. Though I can’t argue a case in court, I can provide clients with the legal tools their attorneys need to present their cases.

I’ve always known I wanted to work in immigrant advocacy. Having graduated valedictorian of my high school, I was able to secure scholarships to attend Texas A&M and graduated in two and a half years while working two jobs to cover costs and repay a loan to bridge scholarship gaps. DACA’s enactment in 2012 made much of this possible. It gave me hope for a future and enough independence to live on my own, to reside in a dorm and to secure work on campus.

Until DACA, I had made myself believe that someday I could reach the goals I set for myself, even though my undocumented status meant my goals weren’t realistic. I kept working toward these goals, graduating with a B.A. in political science from Texas A&M when I was only 20. Pursuing a law degree, I attended a private college for a semester but had to drop out when I couldn’t cover the $53,000 needed for my first year of schooling. Even if I’d had the money and gotten my juris doctorate, my being undocumented prevented my acceptance to the Texas Bar Association.

I came to the States when I was six with my mom and dad, my older sister and twin brother. We overstayed our visas and pinned our hopes on a pending family petition sponsored by my citizen grandfather. My mom applied for residency in 1999 but my grandfather has since died, dissolving her petition. However, she may re-file with another family sponsor and her original date will be counted when calculating her wait time. The immigration process was painfully slow before 9/11 and has become even more of an ordeal since then.

Reform is vital to the 11-million Undocumented like me and to the country as a whole if it is to realize the full potential of all the people who live, work and raise their families here. Family is very important to me and the daily struggle of being undocumented has helped make us closer. We came for a better life and we have built one for ourselves and our community.

While my family’s petition for residency has been languishing in bureaucratic limbo, I am working to help others. I travel to various judicial districts for my clients and I have also been assigned to help train staff in Mexican immigrant shelters. DACA’s advanced parole allows me to cross the border to study and evaluate cases there. What’s more, I get to visit family in Mexico, some of whom I haven’t seen in 15 years.

I fight for social justice and I provide the knowledge and experience needed for those lost in the system. I love this country and want to make it better by ensuring that it values its proud immigrant history and finds new ways to accommodate and welcome those of us still waiting to take our rightful place in an America that will

America T. – 26, Atlanta, GA, Born in Mexico 

Before DACA, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be because a good job and higher education were unattainable for me. Though I’d graduated high school, I worked at low-paying jobs with long hours. Georgia wanted me to pay out-of-state tuition even though I’d grown up in the state, so college was unaffordable even if I could get accepted which was most unlikely.

DACA changed my life and I applied immediately. I was able to find a good job and I’m trying to save for college as I explore internships, grants and scholarships. I was able to buy a car and even get a license, though Georgia will take that away from me once my old one expires. I was able to use my own name to get insurance and buy a cell phone. My world expanded overnight.

It shouldn’t be so hard in America for a woman named America. I now know what I want to be: an immigration attorney. I’m determined to go to law school despite all the obstacles and have already become a certified paralegal. With this knowledge I help others in my community navigate the legal system.

For the last three years, I’ve been employed by an accounting firm where I work in accounting, payroll and tax preparation. Someday soon I’d like to find work in a law office to gain hands-on experience as I pursue my education.

I’ve been in the States since 1999 when I walked over a border crossing. No one asked me any questions but my mom, who was supposed to follow on the same day, was held up and turned back. It was a long, scary month before she was able to make it through. I was only nine, but I had family here in the U.S.  I waited and worried with my older brother and sister. Finally, my mom got through the checkpoint and joined us. We were together again and briefly lived in Texas with my brother. However, my mom had more family in Atlanta and wanted to move there, so she took her two daughters to Georgia. My brother decided not to go and was deported to Mexico a few months later. My mom joined him in 2009, but my sister and I felt like we had found a home in Atlanta.

In 2014, with DACA parole, I was able to visit my family on humanitarian grounds. My grandfather had already died and my grandmother was ill. I was reunited with my mom, whom I hadn’t seen in five years, and my brother, who had been gone for 14. It was wonderful to see my family but I have made my home in the States.

There has been too much sacrifice made by my family to get me here and provide me with a place to live. I have struggled too long to give up. Those who disparage immigrants don’t know how much we add to this country. We have come for a better life and we work hard to improve ourselves and our communities. We make America stronger with more small businesses, more dedicated employees and ambitious students. We wouldn’t have come in the first place except we believed we could make things better for ourselves, our families and our new country. We need to be recognized for our contributions. We are proving how American we are every day.


Elizabeth J.D. – 21, Fridley, MN, Born in Mexico

I have dreams of going to medical school and have since changed my major in college from nursing to chemistry and physics. Cancer research is something that I truly want to pursue, especially after my internship at the University of Minnesota where I studied this disease and how it manifests in women. It will take an extra year to graduate with my major change, but I feel like this is my calling. I’ve already completed my first research study comparing cancer mortality rates between African American and Caucasian American women.

It’s not just the scientific research that fascinates me; it’s learning as much as I can about how to translate what I learn into directly helping people in my community, people who more often than not don’t have access to adequate medical care.

Presently, I’m in my junior year at St. Kate’s, a private Catholic university, where I was able to attain a scholarship from my high school academics. In addition to school, I work for a women’s shelter caring for victims of domestic violence. I help women get themselves re-established and act as their advocate in legal, employment and housing matters. I also make sure their children get the assistance they need.

I have firsthand knowledge of what domestic violence can do to a family. It’s why my mother fled Mexico with me. To keep us safe, she took a leap of faith and started over in a nation that offers women more protection from abuse than Mexico. Though she eventually worked things out with my father, it took a new life in a new country to bring our family back together. Because of my childhood experiences, I can relate to the women in the shelter and this helps them trust me.

Right now, I live with my parents and two younger brothers, 12 and 7, who are both citizens. We support each other both emotionally and financially and keep our family strong.

My mom brought me to the States 16 years ago. I was only five so she tried to keep me from being afraid by telling me we were going to Disneyland. Instead we walked across most of Arizona until we found a place to stay. We were with a group of friends and they took turns carrying me because I was too little to keep up or walk great distances. We wound up in Chicago with an uncle for a year and then reconciled and reunited with my father in Minnesota where we’ve been ever since.

Before DACA, I was working long hours for little pay while going to school. Now I have a work permit and a real job that I love, where I make a real difference. DACA is a good start to fixing the immigration system but it’s not nearly enough. My mom applied for residency with the sponsorship of her own mom. This was 15 years ago. My grandmother has since died and my mom has yet to have her application approved.

I must continue to follow my dreams despite the immigration system’s failures. I have big plans. I was the first in my family to graduate high school and go to college. The goal of finding new cancer treatments drives me to study hard and figure out a way to pay for medical school. It won’t be easy, but I have a lot of emotional support from my family. This keeps me going along with the work I do at the women’s shelter. I am earning my citizenship by becoming a research scientist, by fulfilling my potential as an advocate for women and social justice and by making my parents proud.

Juan T. – 25, Atlanta, GA, Born in Juarez, Mexico

I’m a Christian who raps, an artist who has found inspiration for my own life and a way to help others through my music. I think everyone is looking for a refuge, a home. I’ve found mine in the U.S. where I have the opportunity to live the life I was meant to pursue – not be overwhelmed by the poverty and violence that rules my hometown. And I have discovered my calling in my church where I perform my original songs.

I was only five when my mom crossed the border with my two sisters and me to reunite with our father who was already living in Dallas. Our family started over and eventually settled in and my two little brothers were born there – both U.S. citizens. But my father was deported in 2004 after almost a decade of making a home for his family, which was torn apart when he was forced to leave. When my mom’s father became very ill, she took her two small boys and returned to Mexico to be with her husband and dying father. My older sister had already returned to Mexico to care for our grandfather. Only my sister Alma and I remained in the States.

First we stayed with a cousin, but that didn’t last long for me when the cousin’s boyfriend kicked me out on the streets. I tried overnights with friends but basically I was homeless during high school. I was fending for myself and determined to graduate, which I did in 2008.

On my own at 18 with my high school diploma, I was not at all sure about my future until I found the Lord and a mentor, David Funke, who was the Director of Dallas Youth with a Mission (YWAM).  He found me a place to live and guided my religious pursuits. I was now on the path that would guide my life.

When DACA was announced in 2012, I applied right away. I had already graduated from El Centro community college where I got my AA degree in liberal science. I was later accepted at Southern Methodist University, a private four-year institution, but I couldn’t afford to attend. I then decided to take care of my brothers who returned to the States in 2012. This was very hard to do, but I did my best until my sister took them back to Mexico the following year.

I have since moved from Dallas to Atlanta where I met my wife-to-be Amy three years ago. We have been married seven months. She works as an accountant and I work at my church, ministering through my music both to congregants and those who attend my performances throughout the community. My dream is to return to college to get my BA and to attract a larger, even commercial audience with my music.

I was able to return to Mexico through DACA parole this past November when my grandmother was very ill. It had been 11 years since I last hugged my parents. It was a wonderful reunion but I realized anew that my life is in the U.S.

This life is now documented in my book, Left in America, discussed on my website: www.LeftinAmerica.org. By telling my story, I hope to inspire others to make the most of their potential. I want to give back to my community and gives others hope and comfort, to tell them they’re not alone.

Yadira A. – 28, St. Petersburg, FL, Born in Ixmiquilpan Hidalgo, Mexico

I’m very much on my own in this country — without any family. I originally came to the States with my mom and older sister when I was five. We crossed the Mexican-U.S. border by just walking through. It was a different time. We went to Memphis to stay with a friend but she was being abused by her boyfriend so my mom knew that we couldn’t stay. For some reason, she took us to Florida, even though we knew no one there. Somehow we managed to survive in Florida until I was 11 when my mom’s need for tumor surgery forced our return to Mexico. Once my mom had her surgery, she left my sister and me with a neighbor and the two of us took care of each other. We split cooking and cleaning chores and basically raised ourselves. Four years later, my mom came back for me but has since returned to Mexico to enjoy being a grandmother to my sister’s children. I decided not to leave with my mom, even though she wants me to be with her, because my life is here. This is where I can make something of myself.

I’m in my second year at St. Petersburg College where I’m working on an ESL teaching degree. I hope to teach elementary school. I work two jobs to earn money for school – one as an office manager and another in a fast-food restaurant. I graduated high school in 2006 but didn’t get my diploma until I passed the statewide exam in 2013. It was then that I qualified for in-state tuition.  I also have a scholarship, but money is always tight.

DACA has really made a difference in my life. I was able to apply for college, get in-state tuition and secure a work permit. Since I was also eligible for a Florida driver’s license, I learned how to drive and now own a car. There was no need to learn how to drive before DACA because I wasn’t going to drive illegally and live with the fear of being pulled over.

Though I miss my family, my future is here. I have given up everything to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher. I work hard and take care of myself. In a country that needs more good teachers, I will be an asset – earning my citizenship and giving back to the U.S. — grateful for the opportunities I have found here. I hope by the time I graduate college that immigration reform will be a reality and I will be shown a pathway to citizenship.

Yaneth P. – 26, Hobbs, New Mexico, Born in Mexico

I was only 40 days old when mom brought me to the States, so America is the only home I know and it’s home to my own children. I still believe I can offer my children a better life in this country, just as my parents did so many years ago. It’s important to me to provide a good role model for my kids. I want them to believe in themselves and to realize the value of hard work and setting goals.

I’m saving for community college as I work as an assistant manager at a gas station. I also earn what money I can as an Herbal Life representative. I’ve learned a lot about nutrition and healthy living and I’m interested in massage therapy, possibly as a referral source for a local chiropractor.

Life has always been hard but my family is too important to give up. Two of my children are in school and I want them to know the importance of an education. Their father left me and returned to Mexico, but my toddler’s dad provides a father figure to all three. He helps me make ends meet though there is never really enough to feel secure, let alone save for college.

When I qualified for DACA, I was greatly relieved. Living with the fear of deportation with three small children weighed heavily on my mind. I took advantage of DACA to get a work permit so I can get better jobs and earn a better living.

The most important thing in the world to me is family so I work for my children and I help in my community, even without being asked. My community is my extended family and I believe we must look out for each other. It’s how I stay connected as an Undocumented American. For now, it’s enough that my children are citizens, but I want to see recognition of my right to belong, the right of all 11 million of us.

Karla E. – 24, Chino, CA, Born in Mexico

Anthropologist and activist, I am on a mission: to teach until I can earn enough money for grad school where I will study forensic anthropology. But I’m not just focused on my own future, but on the future of all the Undocumented. Unlike my parents who keep a low profile, I’m outspoken and, thanks to DACA, have successfully received deferred-action status.

If the government tries to deport me, I will not go quietly. I will call attorneys and organizations and make my case on social media. I’m going to fight to stay in this country. This is my home.

I was first brought to the U.S. when I was five during Mexico’s recession when the economy collapsed causing my family to lose everything. My parents tried to return for a while when I was nine but re-entered the States when I was 13 and have been here ever since. We made our home in what was then a hostile California. Now our state is leading the nation in immigration reform. But the rhetoric from Prop 187 days is back and now has a national voice in the leading GOP presidential contender. The big difference these days is that the young Undocumented are more connected to our native-born peers, teachers and others in our community both on a personal level and through social media. We just want others to realize we have the same aspirations, work ethic and rights as those who were born in this country.

When my family first came to the States, every day was hard. Just finding enough money to buy milk for my nine-month-old brother was a challenge. But my parents got jobs and worked hard. They were away from home much of the time because of their long hours, but they did what they had to do to provide for us. They taught us how to endure and to achieve. They emphasized the importance of a good education. It was when I applied for university that I realized how much my life would be affected by my being Undocumented. My high school counselor told me that because I was Undocumented, I could never go to college, that I was better off going back to Mexico. My dreams were shattered but I enrolled in community college. There was no California Dream Act then, so I covered my fees and books by working while going to school. My parents kept me believing in myself and eventually I transferred to UCLA where I studied anthropology and graduated with a BA.

At one point my activism for immigration reform caused me to let my studies slide but my parents encouraged me to pursue the educational opportunities they had come to the States to find for their children. Now I balance my life better and I have even asked my parents to come listen to the stories of the Undocumented. My parents find the stories sad, but I find them powerful and motivating. My parents are proud of my courage and tenacity even as they worry about me.

I joined other Undocumented in protests in Costa Mesa and acts of civil disobedience in Washington. By 2010, I started to identify myself as “undocumented and unafraid. When DACA was introduced, it changed my life. I could finally find a job that supported my studies. I was even able to take advantage of a UCLA study program, traveling to Europe to see firsthand all the art and architecture. I was inspired to continue my education and my activism. I started a blog, https://undocutravelers.wordpress.com, at UCLA which helped other undocumented students study abroad, to share the experiences I had had.

My advantages under DACA just make me realize that my parents are still living without any deferred-action protections, much less a path to citizenship. Deferred action is not enough. We need immigration reform for our parents who sacrificed everything to come to the States to provide a better future for their children. I am who I am because of all they taught me about being a good, hardworking person. I am much more than Undocumented. This term does not define me. I am an American in every way except on paper. I just want to be seen as a human being, not a stereotype. I’m a fighter and I plan to battle for my rights and those of all the Undocumented.

Erick T. – 27, Los Angeles, Born in Mexico City

I’m starting my second semester of law school after growing up thinking that I should limit my expectations because of poverty and few professional role models. But my parents had faith in me and encouraged me to work toward a better future.

If my parents could come to the States knowing no one and struggle as they did, even sleeping in their car, then I could push myself to make something of the opportunities they had provided. My mom brought me to this country 24 years ago as a toddler. My father had come earlier to find work. Fortunately, we come from a family of immigrants. My Russian grandfather was a World War II refugee who made a new life for himself in Mexico. Decades later, it was our turn to start over.

I really never knew I was undocumented until high school when identification is required for work, driving and financial aid for college. Without the proper papers, I felt my world close in and thought my future was limited. But my mom and dad kept pushing me to aim higher. I enrolled in community college and studied business administration. It was here I saw possibilities. It was here I became ambitious. My sweetheart, whom I met right after high school, joined me in college and we kept each other going, marrying in our third year at Santa Monica College. It took me four years to get through community college because I had to work. I was finally able to transfer to Cal State L.A. My wife and I had done it together.

We fought for passage of the failed Dream Act and I took advantage of DACA when President Obama signed his executive order. So I can live with less fear and more hope. My wife is a U.S. citizen and she has petitioned for residency for me.

After college, I worked for two years in real estate improving my LSAT scores and saving money for law school. I now attend Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and hope to focus my practice on environmental law. My wife has her business degree and works in administration at one of L.A.’s leading hospitals.

I now have a goal in sight and have worked long and hard to get where I am. I know there is much more to do, and though I may not be the brightest, I’m the most tenacious. I’m not giving up on my dream, a dream I didn’t dare embrace at first. My parents taught me to believe in myself and I’ve been helped by others along the way. I feel it’s my responsibility to give back whenever I can as a way of showing my appreciation for those who encouraged me. I also hope my story inspires those who contemplate giving up.

I consider myself an American because I admire and hold dear the philosophies of this nation, the opportunities to realize our dreams, to work hard and achieve our full potential. I have earned my citizenship by appreciating and building on the nation’s highest ideals.