'Dreamer' Immigrant Says 'I Am An American' | WGLT

'Dreamer' Immigrant Says 'I Am An American'

Feb 27, 2017

Trump administration deportation policies are triggering protests in many communities.
Credit Alisdare Hickson/Creative Commons

"Even though I don't have documents, this is my country and I will do whatever to defend it," said a 30-year-old undocumented immigrant who wants to be called Victor because he fears being deported under new Trump administration policies.

Victor remembers nothing of crossing the U.S. border from Mexico, except for a dim memory of holding his mother's hand. He was three years old at the time. His parents did not reveal the family's illegal status to their children. Growing up, Victor's life seemed like that of any other kid.

"It was normal. I went to school, went to church, hung out with friends, celebrated every holiday, Fourth of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving. This is what I grew up with," he said on GLT's Sound Ideas.

Life was normal until he turned 17. 

"It was time to get my driver's license and I found out I didn't have a Social Security number. I started asking questions to my parents. Why didn't I have a Social Security number? And they told me I didn't have documents."

Victor is one of an estimated 750,000 undocumented immigrants known as "Dreamers," people who were brought to this country as children by their parents.

An articulate man who speaks flawless English, Victor said he was devastated by the news of his illegal status.

"I felt heart-broken, empty. There were a lot of emotions. I was angry at my parents. At one point, I got angry towards God. Growing up as a boy, I was always at church and had this big faith in God, and so the fact that this was happening to me, I kind of turned my anger toward him. It was a very emotional roller-coaster time."

Victor's voice still cracks and his eyes fill with tears when he speaks of that time. The revelation threw his senior year in high school into turmoil.

"One of my relatives told me I might as well drop out of high school and become a dishwasher because I couldn't really pursue any career. That really broke my heart. Luckily, my aunt was there to give me some words of encouragement and push me, and I was able to graduate from high school."

He volunteered with immigrant rights groups and developed an interest in politics. But not having a driver's license or Social Security card limited what he could do.

"It kept me from exploring this great country. I always wanted to go to New York, to California."

Not having a Social Security number, however,  didn't keep him from working. Victor said employers were willing to hire him without checking his immigration status.

In 2012, he was able to obtain a Social Security number and worker permit under President Obama's executive order known as DACA -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The order was aimed at helping so called "Dreamers," young immigrants like Victor who know only American life.

Victor works fulltime now and disagrees with those who suggest undocumented immigrants have no place in this country.

"I think they are wrong. I am very involved in the community. I have a job. I pay my taxes. I don't see myself as a burden," he said.

The Trump order applies not only to immigrants who commit crimes, but those who are even suspected of a crime, or have committed a minor offense.

The president has said he has no plans to change the status of so-called Dreamers, who currently can remain in the U.S. legally. But life has changed for Victor, who says he fears being stopped for a traffic violation, jaywalking, or being caught up in a raid.

Already in some parts of the country, undocumented immigrants with no criminal background have been detained. 

"There are days when I wake up and am emotionally drained," Victor said. "Not knowing what President Trump will do with DACA is killing me. I am always checking the news to see if there is any news on that."

He has never been back to Mexico and America, he said, is the only country he calls home.

"Every Fourth of July when I am out with my family seeing the fireworks, I take a moment to thank God for the opportunity to be here, and now I don't know what the future holds for me."

He said he would like to see Dreamers put on a fast track toward citizenship. That seems increasingly unlikely.

"I'm scared, but I also know I can't let fear overtake me," he said.

For now, he sees a role for himself educating Americans about Dreamers.

"Make them know that not all undocumented people are criminals, especially young people like myself. We came here of no choice of our own. This is the only country I know and we know. And we love this country."

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.