DACA, for many people, is just an acronym they have heard of or have seen in the news. For Jose, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is his lifeline to the future.
Jose lives in Los Banos and a is 20-year-old student at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College. Jose is not his real name (I’ve changed it to safeguard his privacy), but the details of his story are unchanged.
Jose enrolled in DACA, which allows children of undocumented immigrants to remain in America, soon after it was adopted in 2012 when he was a student at Los Banos High School. He was 15, the youngest age for an applicant (the oldest is 30). He renewed his status in 2015 and again a few months ago. The expiration date on his most recent renewal is January 2020.
Jose was 5 when he arrived in this country. His parents brought him and his younger brother across the border for their own safety. It was, in fact, a matter of life and death.
“We lived in the state of Sinaloa, often referred to as ‘Narcoland,’ the drug capital of Mexico,” Jose said.
“Although my family was not involved in drugs and kept a low profile,” Jose said, “my father and mother knew they could end up as some neighbors did, pulled from their homes in the middle of the night and shot by hit men from a drug cartel – who often made mistakes in identifying people they needed to kill.”
After they crossed the border, Jose’s family members separated. For two days Jose and his little brother were away from their mother and father. “Even at 5 years old, I knew what was happening,” Jose said, “and I was scared.”
Eventually Jose’s family reunited and made it to Los Banos, where his father was hired by a farmer. Jose’s father worked hard, won the respect of his employer and now is a trusted contributor to the business.
Jose entered kindergarten in Los Banos knowing hardly any English. “I was so fortunate to have a kindergarten teacher who was understanding and compassionate, and she helped me move forward in the right direction.”
Jose went on to Los Banos High, where he studied diligently and earned good grades. After graduating, he enrolled in Merced College, where he is completing his transfer requirements in biology. “The professors and counselors at the Los Banos Campus have been very understanding and helpful,” Jose said. “They have pushed me to work hard.”
From the time Jose was 15, he has worked in the Los Banos area to help support his family – which now includes two other siblings born in the United States.
“My first job was working in the fields,” Jose said, “and I realized how hard that was, especially after 10-hour days picking cantaloupes.”
Later Jose worked in food processing and selling cell phones while tutoring other students in math and science.
Jose has a plan to build on his hard work and succeed. He hopes to transfer as a biology major to UC Merced and, if all goes well, to enroll in medical school.
“Becoming a doctor,” he said, “would be a good way of giving back to my community.”
Jose is worried – not for himself, but for his friends and relatives who are also “Dreamers” – the nickname given to those protected under DACA. Congress needs to pass legislation for them to stay in this country after their DACA status expires. An estimated 36,000 could be expelled by March.
“I feel blessed to be a ‘Dreamer’ under DACA,” he said. “And I want people to know my story. I would like everyone to have an open mind and be as informed as possible about young people like me. I don’t want anyone’s sympathy. I just would like their understanding.
“DACA is a privilege,” Jose continued. “We DACA students acknowledge that. We are grateful. We simply wish to take advantage of the opportunities this great country has to offer.”
I have high hopes for Jose and other Dreamers. I believe Jose is one of those young people who are, as President Trump described them, “absolutely incredible kids” who “have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own.”
I trust Congress will create a bill that appreciates the circumstances, initiative and hard work of the many young Dreamers like Jose and allows them to stay in the United States. That would be a sign of hope.
John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.