Mary worked in a restaurant and had to be paid under the table. And then, just as she had her second child, found out she might be able to stay in the U.S. legally.
The Eastern Washington University graduate received a work permit through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That was five years ago.
The program allowed people such as Mary, who were brought to the United States as children and grew up here, to have a two-year permit protecting them from deportation and allowing them to work.
For her, that permit represented hope that she might one day be able to use her college education and raise her own American-born children without fear of deportation.
“You kind of wanted to strive for better and better,” she said.
With the White House’s announcement Tuesday that the DACA program would be curtailed over the next six months, Mary’s hopes have been replaced by fear and uncertainty.
“It’s inhumane,” she said Tuesday. “Here’s a taste of what you could have, but then never mind.”
Ending DACA was one of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises, and something Attorney General Jeff Sessions has encouraged. Trump called on Congress to address the plight of young immigrants, often called “dreamers,” though legislation for the DREAM Act was never approved by Congress.
Mary, now 31, works as a paraeducator in a small school district in Spokane County, where most of her co-workers have no idea she was brought to the United States illegally as a child.
She asked that her last name and specific place of work not be mentioned because she doesn’t want her colleagues to learn about her legal status or be singled out for immigration enforcement.
Her family arrived from Mexico when she was 6 in search of medical care for her mother, who had lupus. The autoimmune disease can cause the body to attack its own organs, sometimes causing death.
Her permit expires in December, and Tuesday’s announcement means she won’t be able to renew it, a process that costs about $1,000, plus attorney fees. She hopes she’ll be able to keep her job and raise her children in the country she calls home.
“I love being with kids and I love teaching kids,” she said.
She wants Congress to pass an immigration reform measure to give permanent amnesty to people like her.
“We are law-abiding citizens,” she said. “There should be a law that passes for us to become residents.”
Maria, another EWU alumna, first went to college even though she wasn’t sure whether she’d be able to use her degree. Her parents brought her to the U.S. with her three sisters from Michoacan, Mexico, hoping to find better-paying work and get away from violence caused by drug cartels.
She was just 3 when they arrived in Eastern Washington. To protect her sisters and avoid being targeted for deportation, she also asked that her last name not be used.
Maria was a senior when DACA was first announced. She then went to graduate school in communication studies. She said DACA permits made education more accessible for undocumented students like her.
Though students without legal status can’t get federal financial aid, having a permit allowed them to work better-paying jobs, including ones on campus, rather than relying on under-the-table work.
She’s now an academic adviser at Arizona State University, where many students are also “dreamers.”
“I’m thinking about all the students now who are just feeling defeated,” she said.
She and her sisters all rely on DACA to be able to work. Her permit expires in 2019, and one of her sisters will lose her permit in November 2018.
“I just feel like I can’t think. I have to come up with another plan,” she said.
Going back to Mexico isn’t an option, she said. Violence in Michoacan, often called the home of Mexico’s drug war, has only gotten worse since she left.
The 26-year-old said it’s frustrating to see so many people making incorrect assumptions about people like her, including that they’re using federal financial aid or other government programs they’re not eligible for.
“Try putting yourself in our shoes,” she said.
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