Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Another Kind of DREAMer

Guest blogger: Debra Pinzon-Hamilton, Second Year Law Student, University of San Francisco:

Francisca meets the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) requirements: she was under 18 when she arrived; she’s under 30 years old; she’s in school presently; and she’s never had any legal problems in her life.  But she’s not a face you’ll see on TV or read about in the paper by groups promoting immigration reform and DACA.  She’s a DREAMer of a more common variety, but her DREAM is no less worthy.

Francisca is someone whose life in the U.S. has passed invisibly to many, but who has contributed to our community, paying taxes each year, owning a home, buying car insurance, shopping in U.S. stores, and most importantly, raising three intelligent, active, and mature U.S. citizen children with very bright futures ahead of them.

Francisca is 28 years old and her oldest daughter is nearing the age when Francisca crossed the U.S. border from Mexico.  Francisca was 12 years old then and she remembers it vividly.  She’d lived with her grandma for a year before her parents could save enough money to pay a coyote and send for her.  She travelled with two family friends to Tijuana, where she spent six weeks trying to cross the border on at least 30 occasions, desperately trying to reunite with her parents.

Eventually an American family piled blankets upon blankets in the backseat of their car and their children rode atop.  She spent four hours convinced that she was going suffocate from the weight of the blankets and the children, but she survived.  Her parents picked her up and brought her to the San Francisco bay area.

Her parents didn’t enroll her school right away.  They didn’t speak English, didn’t know the U.S. system, and moreover school simply wasn’t a priority for her parents.  Scraping by was a priority for them.  For over two years, Francisca would accompany her parents to the fields where they worked picking fruits and vegetables.  Then when she was nearly 15 years old, her father finally enrolled her in high school. 

Francisca hadn’t been in school since the 7th grade in Mexico, yet she was placed in 10th grade with teachers who spoke only English.  Francisca had been surrounded only by Spanish speakers during her time in the U.S., so she hadn’t learned English.  She didn’t understand the teacher and she didn’t know the essentials to be at a 10th grade level.  Other kids spoke Spanish, but never to her, only about her.  Francisca lasted only three months in high school before the bullying and frustration drove her away.

She then went to work that she knew – picking green beans in the fields of Oakley.  Francisca’s mother had left her father shortly after Francisca joined them in the U.S. and moved to Los Angeles.  Francisca had stayed behind with her father.  He, however, suddenly decided to move to New York.  Now she had to choose: move to New York with her father or meet her mother in LA.  Both cities were new to her and even though she wasn’t in school, the Bay Area had become her home. 

Then 21-year old Jorge offered her another choice.  They had met at a wedding only a few months prior and began dating.  The 16-year old Francisca realized her parents would never reunite as she’d once hoped, and she felt abandoned.   Jorge offered her another option: live with him in the city that had become home and he would take care of her.  Francisca chose Jorge.

Francisca had her first child shortly before her 17th birthday.  She rose to the challenge of becoming a young mother.  Francisca does everything she thinks a mother should do: she cooks, she cleans, she listens, and she wants the best for her children.  But Francisca does more.  She now has three children excelling in school, enrolled in baseball, ballet, gymnastics, tae kwon do, and wrestling.  Francisca spends her days dropping them off and picking them up at school, lessons, and activities.  She attends parent-teacher conferences, goes to church with the children, and she takes the kids to the library every week to check out books.  She’s an avid reader, and she encourages the kids to read and helps with their homework as best she can.  The oldest child is at the top of her class and reads and writes flawlessly in both Spanish and English. 

Francisca’s eldest daughter, “Jaz,” is approaching the age when Francisca was locked in a windowless detention center with grown men and women; when she was dumped by CBP at 3 am alone on the streets of Tijuana; when she crawled through tunnels and walked across deserts to be with her parents.  Francisca knows Jaz will never have to deal with that, but she also knows she’s entering a time of prepubescent insecurities, and Francisca realizes that her daughter needs something more.  She needs her mother to be a role model.  Francisca desperately wants her daughter to stay in school and to go on to college, and she thinks the best way to show her how important it is, is to do it herself. 

And so several months ago, Francisca began taking English as a Second Language and GED prep classes at a community center.  She says it’s difficult – finding time to study and still do all the little things for her children she’s done for so long.  But she’s doing it, and she will succeed. 

Francisca is still working on collecting evidence of her continuous U.S. presence for her DACA application.  Without having been in school or working for so many years, it’s challenging.  However, Francisca wants to apply for DACA, so that once she finishes her GED, she can attend community college and become a dental assistant to help pay her children’s way through college.  She doesn’t want to hide and she doesn’t want to be “illegal.”  She wants her children to be proud of her accomplishments. 

The DREAMers we read about are kids who didn’t know they were undocumented, whose parents kept them in school from a young age, who speak perfect English, and who went to college.  They are kids who hold advanced degrees yet cannot work.  Their stories are appealing and reveal a desperate need for immigration reform and for relief such as DACA. 

Francisca will not likely go to medical school or write an award-winning novel like other DREAMers, but she may raise U.S. citizen children who do.  Francisca is a DREAMer of a more common variety, but her DREAM is no less worthy.



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