Coming out of the shadows

Undocumented student, alum share stories in wake of DACA uncertainty

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John Wang '18

Juan Cuecha '16 chats to a fellow DePaul student.

Daisy Conant '18, Lead Reporter

11:08 a.m., September 5, 2017.

Some were at home with their families. Some were at work. Some were starting their first day of elementary school, high school, or college. Yet, for all 800,000 of the young, undocumented immigrants around the country, the news hit just the same.

It was at this time that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy, known to familiarly to both its supporters and opposers as DACA.

By 11:09 a.m., the announcement had already crushed thousands of dreams and instilled within thousands of students, including those in the Jones community, a fear of deportation that DACA had managed to protect them from for so long.

In light of the repeal, undocumented Jones students and graduates have decided to shed light on their experiences with DACA and why it is so important to them that this action be reversed. These are their stories.

TERESA VERGARA-MIRANDA ‘18

Lucy Tindel ’19
Teresa Vergara-Miranda ’18 looks on during one of her many extracurriculars.

While the majority of her classmates were spending their last-first day of high school catching up and celebrating their newly minted senior status, Teresa Vergara-Miranda ’18 stayed buried in her phone. Since first period she had been wrapt with CNN’s home page, refreshing the app every few minutes, waiting for the news she knew was coming but hoped would never appear. Sitting in the back of her World Literature class, the announcement finally appeared on her screen.

Absorbing the statement that would ultimately decide the fate of her status in the country she called home, only one word permeated her thoughts.

Why?

“The rest of the day I didn’t work. It was the one day that week I didn’t work. I was really glad I didn’t just because I would’ve broken down,” said Vergara-Miranda. “I remember I cried on the train. I cried when I got home.”

Vergara-Miranda first learned about DACA when she was 14 years old. Although too young to apply, she and her parents were adamant in researching the new policy, attending fairs and gathering information on what Vergara-Miranda needed to be covered by the program.

Two years later, the research paid off. Her application had been accepted, and she received her very first work permit, a Social Security number, and most importantly, protection from being upended from her life in the United States and sent back to Mexico.

“I know plenty of people in these past five years who have become homeowners, [and] gotten their masters degrees. They’ve done so many things that would’ve taken longer without the legislation,” said Vergara-Miranda. “I know it’s not anything materialistic, but the fear of deportation is always there, it’s always within me. When I received [DACA], I knew that I would be fine for at least two years. I knew nothing could happen to me.”

Vergara-Miranda has known she was undocumented her whole life. Her parents brought her to the United States when she was three, never hiding the fact that she had a Mexican passport or that she would have to face many more obstacles in school and life than her peers. Armed with this awareness, Vergara-Miranda did everything in her power to set herself up for success- to the highest degree her status would allow.

“I remember the first day of school, if not the second, I walked into the counselor’s office freshman year and told her ‘I’m undocumented, what should I do?’ From that day on, my course load has been tremendous,” said Vergara-Miranda. “I was working as well, and people were asking me ‘Oh my god, why are you doing this, do you even get any sleep?’”

On top of her multiple AP classes and working 20-25 hours a week at Mariano’s, Vergara-Miranda is involved in a multitude of extracurriculars; she serves as the Vice President of the Spanish Honors Society, is Overall Secretary for the Student Government Association, is a member of the National Honors Society, and participates in an architecture and civil engineering program, a field she hopes to pursue as a career. Additionally, she is Co-President of Folklorico Club, which she uses as a tool to spread awareness about DACA.

“I know that if I put myself out there in all the clubs I’m in, I’m bringing more awareness,” said Vergara-Miranda. “I try to tell people I have DACA because the other two people I know that have DACA don’t like telling [others], so people just don’t know we’re here at Jones. It’s hard for people to understand [our struggle] because of that.”

So why do all this; the clubs, the long work hours, the heavy course load? The short answer: because she has to. With DACA, she could begin working to save up for the large cost of college looming in her future, but it still wouldn’t be enough.

“I’ve known since I was in 7th grade that paying for college was going to be a huge burden. I probably wasn’t even going to go,” said Vergara-Miranda. “I knew the only chances I had of getting college paid for was through top universities, schools who would meet 100 percent need.”

Unlike most of her peers, Vergara-Miranda cannot receive aid from public colleges and universities because her status prevents her from submitting the FAFSA. Although she can receive aid through private scholarships, the majority are only offered to U.S. citizens. Even the highly popular Gates-Millennium Scholarship, a financial aid program designed for low-income minority students, is closed off to her.

With DACA, everything that had defined Vergara-Miranda – her status, her passport, her obstacles – fell away. When the repeal was announced, they all came flooding back. The largest hurdle for many high school seniors, applying to college, was immediately magnified by the repeal for DACA students; not just through financial worry, but security as well.

“I was thinking about going out of state for school, schools like Notre Dame or Yale. But I think I have stay in state, especially in Chicago, just because it’s a sanctuary city,” said Vergara-Miranda. “Just in case something happens with the legislation, I wouldn’t want to be somewhere where people know I’m undocumented and I’m completely exposed.”

When the repeal was announced, it was also announced that students whose DACA expires before March 5, 2018 could reapply, holding onto their DACA for another two years. Unfortunately for Vergara-Miranda, her DACA expires in November of 2018- well past the deadline. She will lose her job, her Social Security number, and most importantly, will no longer be protected from deportation for the next two years.

Even with the ongoing news of President Donald Trump’s potential willingness to create new legislation to support “DREAMers,” young immigrants brought to the country illegally, Vergara-Miranda is still not at ease. In light of everything that’s happened, she encourages students to be aware of the issue, to educate themselves on its repercussions, and to fight for the rights of their peers.

“It may be hard to show your support, especially since you might not know [undocumented students], but just be aware that there are students right now who don’t know what the next six months are going to look like,” said Vergara-Miranda. “You may not be facing it directly, but showing others that you’re there for them is a huge help.”

JUAN CUECHA ‘16

John Wang ’18
Juan Cuecha ’16 chats to a fellow DePaul student.

For Juan Cuecha ‘16, it wasn’t the news of the DACA repeal that hit him the hardest; it was the sight of his mother, sitting in front of the TV in his childhood home, crying as the announcement flashed across the screen.

“My family is always scared. They’re always extra careful and extra cautious in whatever we do,” explained Cuecha. “I felt safe having that program, it gave me a sense that I was moving up in terms of legal status. Hearing that it was going to end took that security away from me.”

To Cuecha, the repeal simply didn’t make any sense. From that Tuesday in September to now, he continues to go over explanations in his head as to ‘why?’ Did President Trump end the legislation just to create a new one and take credit for it? Was there a lack of understanding to how many lives this act- and its repeal- have affected? Is there any hope for his future and the futures of his friends and family?

“We’re all the same. I grew up here. I’ve lived in this country as long as anyone else. So those people that are against DACA, I would tell them just try to think about the situation and the circumstances under which people come to this country,” said Cuecha. “People come to this country to get a better life- you can’t blame them for just trying to be something, you know?  At the end of the day, we’re just trying to make a living and support our families.”

For six years, DACA had allowed Cuecha to not only work and stay protected from deportation, but receive access to academic and career-oriented opportunities as well. As a student at DePaul University, DACA enabled him to apply to the university’s Mitchem Fellowship, a prestigious research fellowship for minority students.

Most importantly, DACA was going to aid in launching Cuecha’s future in the medical field, something almost unheard of for a student of his status. As a student barely halfway through college, a repeal like this is heartbreaking.

“I want to go to med school, I want to be a doctor. DACA was going to allow me to apply,” said Cuecha. “[The repeal] now makes me question whether there’s a purpose to whatever I’m doing, if I’m wasting my time, if I eventually get to the end and I can’t achieve it because DACA was repealed and I have to go back to my home country. [I could be] going to school, paying all this money, to potentially not have it mean anything in the end.”

In light of the repeal, Cuecha feels more out of place than ever. In coming out of the shadows and stepping into the light, Cuecha still sees himself as only partially a member of the country he has called home since 10 months old.

“I live in America, so I’m an American, but I don’t feel like I belong in this country because of the way people perceive us,” explained Cuecha. “They perceive [DACA recipients] as aliens, as if we’re coming in to invade their country and take over. Instead, we’re just trying to live alongside them and work together to make this country a better place.”

Cuecha does not know what the next six months are going to look like, let alone the next five years, and neither do his peers and fellow undocumented students. If deported, they would be forbidden from entering the United States for ten years, unable to see their friends, family, finish their schooling, and take their first steps into adulthood.

To undocumented students at Jones, in Chicago, and around the country, he encourages them to push past that thought, to keep their heads up and to let their voices be heard.

“Although there’s going to be a lot of barriers placed in front of you, and there’s going to be a lot of people telling you that you don’t belong here, just keep pushing,” said Cuecha. “Although it might seem like it might not work out or it feels like you’re doing things for no reason, don’t get down on yourself. If you continue to work hard for something you believe in (such as renewing DACA) and hopefully you’ll succeed.”