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.