Stephany Castro is a Dreamer.
She dreams of being the first person in her immediate family to graduate from high school. She dreams that her hard work will land her at a good college where she wants to study medicine. She has a 4.4 GPA at East Mecklenburg High School and extracurriculars that include Student Congress and ROTC.
But after President Donald Trump’s administration announced last week that it planned to end the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after a “wind down period,” Castro and nearly 800,000 “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 and had been in this country since 2007, now live in fear that they will be deported to countries that many don’t even remember.
Castro found out she was undocumented in second grade.
“I’ve been in America for 16 years, since I was 1 year old,” she said. “I’ve never even gone back to Mexico.”
Once she obtained her DACA status she felt that a “giant weight had been lifted” off of her. She was thrilled that she would be able to land a part-time job, get a driver’s license and car insurance, and apply to college — though she isn’t eligible for most scholarships and since she’s not a U.S. citizen she can’t apply for federal student aid.
“As soon as I got my DACA papers, I got a part-time job,” Castro said. “I am saving for college. It is going to cost me a lot of money, but I don’t care. I know that it will be worth it.”
Castro is poised, with a laser focus that defies her age. She’s a scrapper, and she is brave as hell. Yet, the anguish that she felt from the Trump’s DACA announcement was palpable.
“It felt like my whole world, everything that I have worked for, came crashing down,” she said through tears. She wants everyone to know that despite what they may hear on the news, most undocumented immigrants — especially Dreamers — are not “criminals, rapists and thugs.”
To qualify for DACA a person must not be convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors. They cannot pose a threat to public safety or national security.
Castro has three younger siblings who are all U.S. citizens. It is important for her to show her siblings that with hard work and determination anyone can accomplish their dreams. It is also important for her to show her mother that all the risks and sacrifices that she made to provide a better life for her family have not been in vain.
The American Dream
I moved to Charlotte 16 years ago to escape my chaotic nightmare of a past.
My parents were drug addicts. They hustled doctors for pills. They were unemployed more than they weren’t and they took advantage of any and every system they could.
Although my parents may not have made it particularly easy on me to achieve my dreams, I have never been held accountable for their sins in a concrete way. I wasn’t denied student loans because of their criminal background. I was never passed over for a job because my dad wasn’t around when I was born and his name isn’t on my birth certificate. I don’t live in fear that the Drug Enforcement Agency is going to show up at my door and place me under arrest for crimes that my mom and dad committed when I was a child.
I am college educated. I have a house, an SUV and retirement accounts. I am married to the love of my life and we’re raising a goofy, tender-hearted, rock and roll loving kid who makes me warmer than a Southern summer day. I’m living the American dream, y’all.
But if your parents brought you to America without proper documentation you could be held accountable for decisions that your parents made for you.
Andres Lopez, a Charlotte-based immigration attorney, said Dreamers took a big chance by exposing themselves as undocumented. They “came out of the shadows” because DACA would allow them to become productive members of society.
“No one thought that Dreamers would ever face being deported,” Lopez said. “Then again there was no way to predict the Trump administration.”
Immigration is controversial. There isn’t an easy fix. I’m certainly not proposing that I have the answers.
However, when it comes to Dreamers, we must remember that although they are here without proper documentation, it is through no fault of their own. We must remember that we are their keepers. They are our friends, our neighbors.
Dreamers are our future.
“Dreamers are future political leaders, doctors and educators,” Castro said. “America is a growing melting pot and we are part of that. We are what makes America great.”
Photos: Courtesy of Stephany Castro