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

Abel B. – 21, Phoenix, AZ, Born in Mexico City

I know what it’s like to put myself at risk, to fight for something to improve my life and the lives of thousands of others, against overwhelming odds, and win. I was one of the plaintiffs in the case that got Arizona’s university system to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students – young people like me who’d lived here all our lives and couldn’t afford to get a college education if we had to pay three times what state residents paid. It took the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and so many supporters to make this change but I’m happy to say I helped make history. And now I’m able to attend Arizona State where I’m majoring in marketing while interning in my field in marketing research. I hope to someday get my MBA and open my own ad agency. Being allowed to pay in-state tuition will make all this possible.

It all started with DACA and my 2012 successful application which allowed me to take advanced community college classes while still in high school. Arizona’s community colleges already offered in-state tuition to undocumented students, but the state universities put a four-year degree out of reach for most of us because in-state tuition wasn’t available until our lawsuit.

I came to the States as a toddler and don’t remember much of anything before my life here in Phoenix. I live with my parents to be able to afford college. I have two brothers and a sister, all of whom were born in Arizona and are U.S. citizens. My parents will be eligible for DAPA if it is upheld by the Supreme Court. My mom has worked for the same couple for 14 years and they volunteered to help with my college tuition while my parents provide money for books and expenses. I’m truly fortunate that I can concentrate on my studies and intern in my field. My family has always made my education a top priority.

I’m an asset to this country because I work to make my community better. I stand up for my rights and help others do the same. I see myself as a leader and helped establish a business marketing club in my high school under DECA, an organization recognizing the world’s emerging leaders. I also introduced the same concept to my community college. I competed on an international level in DECA and was the chapter president for two years and have served as the state vice president this past year.

I’m working hard at educating myself, at improving my community and acting as an ambassador for the Undocumented. You can’t talk about me as an impersonal number once you meet me and know my story. I change hearts and minds about immigration just by being who I am. I love this country and want to make it better. This is where I belong. It’s the only home I know. I can’t understand why some want to hold back all the incredible potential of immigrants, why they’d deny an education or a driver’s license to those of us who are struggling every day to earn our citizenship, to make a positive difference.

Though I can’t vote, I’m active in the democratic process and have been registering those who can vote since 2010. Living in Arizona is hard with new immigrant hate bills being introduced in the legislature all the time. It makes for much uncertainty about the future and anxiety about acceptance. However, I will continue with my education and my community activism for social justice. In the fight for in-state tuition, I came to believe that immigration reform was possible and I will hold onto that belief and work to make it a reality.

Jose Jason H. – 22, Long Beach, CA, Born in Mexico

I’ve begun my degree in environmental engineering as I get on-the-job training at the L.A. County Sanitation District, where I’ve been employed for the past three years. It’s hard working full-time and going to school, but I have big plans.

Thanks to DACA, I can build a real future. President Obama’s one executive order changed my life. It lifted me out of limbo and depression and allowed me to pursue my dreams like my peers who were starting college and careers. Even though I’d graduated with honors from high school, I had nowhere to go except to scrounge for menial jobs that paid little. With my DACA work permit, I was able to attain an entry-level position as a sweeper at county where my management and computer skills have made it possible for me to advance to waste operator and inspector, now supervising others. There is even the possibility that my employer may help with my tuition at Rio Hondo College in the future. I never dared to believe I could work at something I loved, that I could continue to be promoted as I acquired new skills and more education.

My aunt, who has been my real mom, brought me to the States when I was four. She rescued me when I was sick and living in poverty. She also brought my three sisters, so she saved our family. I continue to live with my aunt and cherish her immensely.

I’m saving for a home and want to build a life with my childhood sweetheart, Lizbeth. She has always encouraged me to continue my education as she pursues her studies. Lizbeth has just graduated from UCLA and is currently exploring the top law schools in the country.

I stay in touch with my mom, dad and three sisters but my aunt is the one who has made me into the person I’ve become. She has set me on my path and has been there for me through everything, even the loss of my U.S.-born, 19-year-old brother. She has always believed in me.

With DACA, I’m working hard to attain the American Dream. In my heart, I’m as American as anyone who was born here. I’m a leader and an agent for change. I have benefitted from the help of others and I believe it is my duty to give back. My life, my family, my work and my college are here. I’m not giving up all this, no matter who runs the country, though the political rhetoric is disconcerting. I’ve earned my place in the U.S. and I will overcome the uncertainty of politics with the knowledge that I am making a positive difference, like so many immigrants who have come before.

Dan V. – 26, Seattle, WA, Born in Mexico

I’m just starting my career and believe that if I work hard, I’ll be successful. Now I put in 10-hour days in sales and marketing for an international car rental company. I have lived in the States more than half my life, long enough to believe that I can do well if I put forth the effort.

This belief is what drove me to get my college degree in political science. I graduated in 2013 from the University of Washington – on my own with no financial aid. Now I’m exploring the corporate world to see how far I can go. At some point, I’d like to teach at a college, but there is time for me to find my niche and there are many career paths open to me.

Though I’ve had no official mentor, I look to successful Latinos as role models for my direction. I want to make a difference and become a better person as I pursue my career. I’m always aware of how much my parents sacrificed to bring me and my sister to this country. They believed in fresh starts and second chances and so do I.

Since I was brought to the U.S. when I was 11, I qualified for DACA and have used my deferred status to find better employment. But DACA is not enough. I love this country, and through my struggle to make a life here, I truly appreciate all the opportunities afforded me. I earn my way and believe I’m as American as those who are born here. I just don’t have the right papers. It’s a hard thing to tell people that I’m not legal. How can a person not be legal? I have done nothing wrong. Most don’t understand my situation, and at this point, I really don’t understand the concept myself — this ongoing limbo status that keeps me forever uncertain about my place in this country. I believe I’ve earned my citizenship and that I should be recognized for my accomplishments and contributions.

Luis R. – 28, Santa Ana, CA, Born in Celeya, Mexico

When I came to the States with my brother, I was only 12. At that time, I had only one desire – to reunite with my parents who were already living here. I flew to Tijuana and my brother and I crossed the border in a car with people we had met. No one asked me anything. I would have had had no answers for authorities that would have helped my case. I was a kid missing my mom and dad. It was that simple.

For five years, we made a life together in Santa Ana. I had my family. I was home as far as I was concerned. When I was 17, my parents and siblings moved to Illinois, but I chose to remain in California where, as I graduated from high school, I began to realize that I was different from many of my classmates. I didn’t have the right papers to apply for college aid, to drive, to get a job. I was very much on my own and undocumented. My future was beyond uncertain but I didn’t give up. I was determined to go to college.

When DACA was announced, I applied and was accepted. With deferred action, I could breathe. I could plan. I was able to find better work and got a job at the Orange County Environmental Health Department where I process requests for environmental studies. Working full-time while going to school, I’ve earned two associate degrees, one in liberal arts and the other in TV video production. Now in my second semester at Cal State Fullerton, I’m working toward a BA in business administration. I’m very interest in technology, as well as pursuing management opportunities with my current employer.

DACA has given me some peace of mind but it has to be renewed every few years and there is always the uncertainty about the processing time, the political climate and the burden of its costs. It is not enough – this permanent limbo. When my dear grandmother was dying, I applied for advanced parole through DACA to return to Mexico to be with her. The bureaucracy took too long and my abuela was gone before I arrived. I didn’t get to see her to say goodbye and it broke my heart.

With all the hardships and uncertainty of being undocumented, I continue to earn my way and improve my skills. I’m also active in helping others and working for social justice, especially in the LGBT community.  My advocacy expands beyond immigration reform to fighting for human rights for all. Whatever I do, I do from the heart because I care, because every human being matters, because it’s the right thing to do.

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.