DACA Through the Life of One Young Man

Date: September 11th, 2017

Genevieve Martínez-García

After almost two decades of positive steps at the federal level to promote an inclusive and just society, we see a dramatic turn in policy that shuts doors to specific sectors of the population. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is an example of a policy that has helped hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth enjoy a productive future in the United States. This Administration’s decision to rescind DACA will have an enormous impact on our Nation’s youth.

Healthy Teen Network remains committed to support all youth regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status, so they can thrive and live healthy and productive lives. To that end, we interviewed one young man whose life will be directly impacted by the end of DACA, so that he—and not us—can share just what this decision means.

Jorge is a 20-year-old Peruvian man who has lived in the United States since he was 10. His mom and I are very good friends, and I have followed Jorge’s development from a quiet middle schooler to an eager and intellectually curious university student. Back in Peru, Jorge shared one bedroom with his mom and dad in his aunt’s house. Although his mom was working, it was difficult for his dad to find a job. After coming to the United States on a visa, his dad found a job and asked his family to join him in Virginia. They all traveled with 6-month visas, they all stayed past six months immediately becoming “undocumented”.

Regardless of their status, young Jorge was eager and excited to start 4th grade, meet new friends, and learn English. Coming to the United States, according to him, was a dream.  He particularly enjoyed meeting friends from different cultures, and feeling accepted and welcomed in his new school. He was on his way to becoming an American adolescent. Fast forward 10 years later, Jorge tells me that he feels American. His lifestyle, the way he dresses, and the way he talks, is just like any other American young man.

As his peers transitioned into college right after high school, he had his own plans on what he could do to work, be productive, and make a living. A four-year university or community college was completely out of reach financially. He completed a personal trainer course online with the hope of working in a gym. He also got a jobs at a few restaurants waiting tables to save for college and help his parents. Just then, DACA came into effect. He recalled that his heart leaped as a teary-eyed friend told him about DACA. He applied immediately.

A big door of opportunity opened for him, but DACA alone did not solve his education problems. Colleges often charges out-of-state tuition to undocumented students even if these students have lived in the state and graduated from a local high school. To give you an idea, these students often pay a tuition three times higher than their peers. Tuition to study full time remained out of reach. Jorge eased into college taking only one class at a time while he continued working full time. Half way through his first year, North Virginia Community College (NOVA) extended in-state tuition to all undocumented immigrants in the county. This allowed Jorge to increase his credit load and graduate with an Associate Degree in Science last May.

Jorge is just starting his first year at George Mason University in Virginia where he is studying biology. He expects to graduate from college in 18 months. His primary short-term concern is the price of tuition. He is hopeful that George Mason University’s president will keep in-state tuition for all DACA students. The cost of education is the single action that will greatly increase his chances of completing his education. He is not sure what path to take after college. He dreams of pursuing an advanced degree in Biology. Although his heart is in medical school, he recognizes the challenge of paying for school. He has also considered a PhD in biology or a degree in physical therapy. But what about getting a job? Jorge’s concerns right now are short term. He remains focused on completing an education, hopeful that in the future he will be able to join the labor force and pursue his dream of contributing to science or helping people heal. . Although the possibility of deportation exists, he and his family are solely focused on his education. Jorge’s family have faith that a different administration in the future will expand opportunities for immigrant children so they do not have to live in the shadows

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About the Author

Dr. Genevieve Martínez-García, Director of Innovation and Research at Healthy Teen Network, is a health educator committed to bringing innovation to the field of sexual and reproductive health. She has over 14 years of experience researching adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues such as mHealth, fertility, social determinants of health, cultural and economic barriers to health care access among minority populations, health media literacy, characteristics of programs for pregnant and parenting teens, and Latino youth pregnancy intentions.

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