The fate of hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” hangs in the balance even as President Trump’s deadline for winding down DACA appears to be on hold. Monday, March 5, was the date Trump had planned to start unwinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—created by President Obama to allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children to work or go to school. But although the courts have delayed Trump’s plan to end DACA, federal lawmakers have been unable to come up with a long-term solution that would allow the program to continue. Last weekend photographer Michelle Kanaar sat down with several DACA recipients who all came to Chicago from Mexico years ago, and who remain in limbo.
Here are the faces behind the numbers.
Briyit Bedolla, 24, of Cicero
Nursing student at Morton College; part-time server and babysitter
Years in U.S.: 23
“And more than anything, I want to say [being undocumented] taught me the importance of a story behind every individual. For instance, in my situation, just because I’m undocumented, does not mean that I’m a criminal. I have my own story that makes me be me.
“We are not criminals, as many quote us to be, we are not parasites. With DACA, yes, we are given a work permit, and technically, the same advantages as any other citizen has. The only difference is we do not get handpicks. So for instance, because we are working, they take the taxes away, but we are not able to get FAFSA or health insurance. So I want to encourage people to educate themselves before they take a stand.”
Gissel Escobedo, 31, of Cicero
Dual-language kindergarten teacher at Emerson Elementary
Years in U.S.: 26
“We are more than that single narrative of illegality. We are more than the politics of illegality. You know we are people and, like people, we have deep complex emotions, lived experiences, were put in situations where we have to confront issues and make tough choices. We are still a part of this country that we call home.
“I found out that I was undocumented when I was a child. I just remember this one time, that my parents were opening up a letter and my dad was really upset. And I don’t remember the details. All I remember was that I asked why he couldn’t he get that financial support or something like that. And my mother said, ‘Because he doesn’t have a social security number.’ And so that was the first time that I sort of became aware, in about third grade.”
Karen Perez, 27, of Gage Park
Educator; engagement coordinator at Kids for Chicago
Years in U.S.: 21
“I just feel that all the blame is put on our parents. I feel like it’s common sense: If something bad is going on, you flee, right? You want a better future for your kids, and so, you bring your kids.
“I want to go back to teaching, but my DACA expires next March 2019. That wouldn’t be the whole school year. That does bother me, because I’ve seen how a classroom that loses its teacher looks. So, I think that healthwise, it’s affected me a lot. I think I’ve become more anxious than I’ve ever been. I think it’s like a constant fear of never knowing what will happen with you or with your family.”
Laura Mendoza, 29, of Logan Square
Community organizer, Resurrection Project
Years in U.S.: 22
“I want stability. It’s really difficult to not know if I will have the ability to move around freely, to work in my career, to help my parents as they age.”
Maria Teresa Gomez Carmona, 30, of Pilsen
Years in U.S.: 24
“I’m always kind of feeling like there is an end coming because anything, everything could be taken away any moment. . . . So there’s a lot of emotional distress around it that impacts obviously everything. But at the same time, there’s always this kind of knowing that you have to push a little harder to get things done. Because we’re human. I mean, we are very resilient.
“I learned that I’m resilient. When there are literal structures operating against your success and still having that kind of instinct to know that you are stronger than that structure that’s sole purpose is to make you uncomfortable, to make you feel a little less human than others.”
Monzerrath Gaytan, 23, of West Lawn
Communications student at Northeastern Illinois University
Years in U.S.: 19
“The biggest struggle . . . is being undocumented and always trying to stay positive. . . . I just think that there’s this stereotype that we’re here, not doing what we’re supposed to. We’re trying to go to school. We’re trying to make a living. We’re not trying to bother anybody or take anything away from them. . . . I just hope that one day we’re able to change the minds of those who think that we’re horrible people. I hope that one day we’re able to really welcome immigrants and make them feel welcome and comfortable. . . . Some people know what their tomorrow is going to be. I don’t know what’s going to be my tomorrow.
“Always having to have two jobs and being a full-time student [is a challenge]. I think that I always have to worry about the financial aspect. I always have to figure out first if I’m going to have the money available to pay for school.”
Tania Adame, 24, of West Lawn
Dual-language teacher at Emerson Elementary
Years in U.S.: 18
“I think that’s an issue that a lot of people don’t talk about: the mental health that goes with the struggles of not knowing what’s going to happen even though you’re trying superhard to have control of your life. . . . I also want [politicians] to know that all those decisions they make have a face and consequence. To them it might just be a law and it might just be a job. But to me it’s literally my whole life.
“My dad had graduated from college and he was a computer programmer. But because it was such a small town (in Mexico) he couldn’t find any job. It was so bad, we were just eating tortillas with salt and salsa. They came here basically for me.”
Vicente Del Real, 28, of Melrose Park
Organizer for Big Shoulders Fund; theology student
Years in U.S.: 15
“I hope that we get a reform of the laws of immigration reform that is comprehensive, humane, and holistic. . . . The country itself has benefited from immigration greatly.
“It’s convenient for the United States to have us in the shadows. We don’t have any rights, but then we pay like everybody else. . . . I hate that people say, ‘Oh, you don’t pay taxes.’ Are you kidding me? I live in a house. I pay property taxes. I get money taken away every single paycheck of my life.”
Victor Guzman, 25, of Chinatown
Line cook and community organizer
Years in U.S.: 14
“I was looking on the news, how they were talking about illegals. And I was looking at people just like me: brown, short, that typical stereotype Mexican. And I was like: ‘Is that what they see as illegal? A brown person? Like wow, that’s so wrong.’ That’s when I became afraid.
“I remember one time when I was taking a Lyft. And then that person was saying like ‘You don’t look that you’re from here.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m originally from Mexico.’ And then that person was asking, ‘How does it feel to live in a country that is not yours?’ She was kind of claiming that this is not my country or land or place. She was trying to say that her parents built this city for her and for the next generation. I believe that this country was built out of the work of people of color and other immigrants. So I don’t think that it was built from just one group of people.”
Yadira Alonzo, 21, of Albany Park
Biology major at Northeastern Illinois University
Years in U.S.: 11
“I used to be very reserved. I wouldn’t talk to people about my status because I was scared . . . I’m undocumented, and we want to create awareness about this issue, especially right now with everything that’s going on. And some people don’t even know what it means, some people don’t even know what DACA means.
“You know they tend to call us the Dreamers. In reality I think the dreamers are my parents because they came here first looking for a better life, giving me opportunities to go to school and get an education.