Compilation of Stories by DACA Students

Photo by Alice Donovan

Photo by Alice Donovan

Co-Authored by Fernanda Vera, Dennise Armas, and Gerardo Silva

Fernanda Herrera Vera

About Fernanda: Fernanda Herrera Vera, born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico lives in Birmingham, Alabama where she graduated from Samford University. She studied International Relations and Latin American Studies as a University Fellow and a Latin American Studies Scholar. She is an undocumented student who advocates for her community and is a 2015 Congressional Summer Intern. Some of her favorite things to do around Birmingham are going for hikes at Moss Rock Preserve, eating tacos at every taco stand, and visiting local coffee shops. She plans to attend law school in Fall of 2018.  

My family moved to the United States from Guadalajara, Jalisco, México when I was two and a half. Growing up, I knew that our family was different. I knew that we had to be more careful and that my parents had to work harder jobs than my friends’ parents did. After the harshest anti-immigrant law in the nation passed in Alabama in 2011, I realized the extent to which our state refused to acknowledge our many contributions. This law counted on the fear that immigrants would feel upon learning that teachers could ask students if they or their parents were undocumented. It counted on immigrants to realize that they could be pulled over and deported simply for driving to get groceries. My family was indirectly affected by this law--we shut down our family business because our clientele fled. This happened as I was preparing to go to college. My father had to work 80 hour work weeks an hour away from home to break-even from the loss while I worked at a bookstore to pay the rent. Whenever I look back on this time in our lives, I try not to feel reproachful towards our state politicians who wanted to evict us from our homes. Instead, I look towards the many activist groups, such as the Hispanic Interest Coalition and the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, that fought against the laws to cut back on some of its most damaging portions.

Now that I have graduated from college, I am astounded at my parents’ strength and determination. Despite the uphill battle, my parents pushed me through every obstacle before me.

In 2012, just after HB-56 passed in our state, President Obama’s executive order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) made it possible for me to have a social security number, apply for college, and open a bank account. DACA makes it so that for two years at a time, recipients are protected from deportation. Now, it is my duty to use my privilege as a DACA beneficiary and a college graduate to speak on behalf of those who are too vulnerable to speak for themselves.

Although every day there is a threat that DACA may be taken away, I also know that every day may be the last time a family is living under the same roof and that tomorrow a mom or a dad may be deported.

I once attended the League of United Latin Americans Council 4th annual Emerge Conference with over a hundred Latino college students from across the country. We participated in panel discussions about the current climate of our country, sanctuary schools, and cities, and we learned about ways that we can interact with our local government to advocate for our communities. In between panels and activities, we would all check our phones and find out about the latest raids in our respective areas, and the two DACA recipients who were detained in deportation proceedings. Everything was happening in real time--the importance of our discussions was palpable. On that Thursday, we had advocacy visits on Capitol Hill to lobby for the Bridge Act, a bipartisan bill which would protect DACA beneficiaries if it passes. We also asked our representatives to protect families from ICE raids and encouraged them to hold town halls to inform their communities as to what to do if ICE comes to their doors. I had the task of meeting with a staffer from Congressman Mike Rogers’ office. I was not able to say much because he kept our meeting short, but I wanted him to know that there are many DACA beneficiaries and undocumented parents, aunts, and uncles in his district who deserve to be kept together. I talked about the naturalization process and encouraged him to communicate this to his boss.

Upon returning to Samford University that semester, I was overwhelmed by the events of that week. The fear of what could happen to my family finally hit me. Every day, I called my mom to ask about another detail of our family plan if they were to be detained and sent to a deportation center.

The reality of Trump’s America, an America that does not want my parents to keep contributing to its society, an America that calls them criminals simply because they wanted a better future for their family, is a reality for which I was not prepared. Alabama’s anti-immigrant law showed me what could happen in Alabama, but now that has expanded and is the law of the land for our country and we need to be ready to stand up for ourselves so that we may keep our families together.

With everything that is going on in this arena, it would have been very helpful as a former college student to know that Samford wanted to keep me safe and as a student, colleague, and leader on campus. Calling a school a “sanctuary school” is not a defiance of the government - although Samford did not. It is a statement of support that acknowledges all of the struggles that its immigrant students have to confront and a simple statement--”We won’t let ICE come onto our campus and drag you from your dorm to take you to a country that is not your home.”

Dennise Armas

About Dennise: Dennise Armas graduated magna cum laude from Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, AL with her degree in accounting. Dennise is the Director of Accounting for The Bitter Student. In her free time, she enjoys going to the beach, eating out with friends and family, and browsing through Pinterest.

Like other immigrants, I am here in the United States today because my parents wanted a better life for our family. I was born and raised in Costa Rica until I was eleven. Until then, my parents and other relatives did their best to give my brother, who was just seven at the time, and me a reasonable and quality life. While my dad worked long hours to support us, some days my mom would have to get pretty creative with our meals. After trying to make ends meet for years, my parents decided it was time for us to move on. We moved to the U.S., where we have now lived for over eleven years.

Moving here was not easy. As an immigrant, you must leave behind everything you have built and start over in a completely foreign country with a completely different set of customs. I read a comment on a Facebook post about deportations separating families that really caught my attention. The writer wondered why someone would be hurt by being separated from their family as a result of deportation if they did not mind being separated from their family in the first place when they decided to immigrate and leave everything and everyone behind.

As an eleven-year-old, leaving my friends and family behind was the most painful experience I’d had. I cried myself to sleep many nights during our first year in the States. If this was difficult for me, I can’t imagine what it is like for those families who must leave behind their children and/or other members of their family. Thankfully, I was always with my parents and brother, but that is not the case for many other families. Anyone who thinks the transition an immigrant makes is in any way easy clearly has never had to endure these experiences. Fortunately, my parents’ decision to move, along with the sacrifices we’ve had to make along the way, has helped me grow and become who I am today. Regardless of what anyone thinks and the consequences that have followed, I owe all my accomplishments to their brave decision. 

In June 2012, President Obama established Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) through an executive order. Through DACA, about 750,000 people like me were granted protection from deportation and permission to be employed. Thanks to this, I graduated from Birmingham-Southern College, have passed all 4 components of the Certified Public Accountant exams, and will continue to work like I have been since I was old enough.

Some agree with Obama’s DACA, while others don’t. However, one thing is clear to me: without DACA, I would not be able to pursue my dreams. DACA is to me and so many others what makes me feel like I belong to the place where I grew up. 

Every day, I read the news in fear. Just like that, from one day to the next, everything we have done could be taken away from 750,000 others and myself.

The State of Alabama, which has been my home for years, issued a warning to sanctuary schools and colleges. On February 14th, 2017, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to cut funding for public colleges that decide to follow “sanctuary” policies. This may not mean much to the majority of college and high school students looking to start college soon, but to an undocumented immigrant student, this is extremely discouraging. Under this policy, state schools are expected to check every student’s immigration status or lose public funding. The implementation of this bill will crush immigrant students' dreams to continue their pursuit of higher education.

These students are people like me - students who have worked hard throughout their life so they can go to college, get a decent job, and have a better life than their parents. 

As a graduate who values education and determination, it is extremely frustrating to know that students behind me, like my brother, may not be able to obtain a college degree simply because of a status, no matter what their talents, abilities, and dreams may be.

I don’t know what the right answer to immigration issues is, but regardless of what that may be, I hope that one day the people of this great country are able to see the beauty in our differences and recognize each and every one of us as valuable humans who are able to contribute to our society in unique ways. 

Gerardo Silva

About Gerardo: Gerardo Silva graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He likes to run and play soccer. His dreams include opening a restaurant and teaching at the college level.

The “American Dream” is the idea that every person should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.

I was brought to the United States by my parents when I was fourteen years old. However, my whole time in high school I never thought about where I wanted to go to college or what I wanted to study, because I knew that I was not going to be able to attend any colleges with in-state tuition due to my legal status at that time. Even after being an Alabama resident for several years, public schools would charge me double or triple the in-state resident tuition cost. I found myself in the country where people come searching for the American Dream but feeling farther from it than ever before. The executive action (DACA) that former President Obama approved to protect students like me from deportation and grant us a work permit not only gave me hope but also opened doors that I did not even know existed.

Yet, as a former DACA college student, I faced many struggles than most other college students. One of the many challenges is that I failed to qualify for most scholarships because many are only available to citizens or residents. At one point, I worked three jobs while studying as a full-time student - just to pay my tuition. Eventually, this became unmanageable, and I had to take out very high-interest student loans. Since I am not a citizen, it was very hard to find a student loan for which I could get approved. I only qualified for loans with an 11%+ interest rates. I could go on with this list. 

Today, I am a graduate with an accounting degree. I have been fortunate to receive an accounting internship and a full-time offer from a company in their internal auditing program. My road to higher education will not finish following my bachelor’s degree. I have dreams and hopes for the future. I want to fulfill not only my parent’s dream for me to be successful and have a better future but also my own “American Dream.”

Getting rid of DACA will destroy the lives of many people—around 750,000 DACA beneficiaries, to be exact. All the time, money, effort, sweat, and tears will have no value because we will not be able to work legally anymore, and our degrees will be totally worthless. Most of us under this executive action live in fear right now, but inside we know that we have accomplished a lot, and with the same perseverance that has brought us here, we will continue to fight for our American Dream.