In the summer of 2012, DACA (Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals) was implemented. Three years has passed. Various studies were done to show the improvement in lives of DACA recipients and those around of them. Numbers are good, but they are just numbers, not people. To put a real face forward instead of a number Hola America wants to share the story of Monica Reyes, DREAMer, college student, activist and co-founder of DREAM Iowa.
Monica Reyes is from Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. She came to United States with her mother and sister when she was only three years old. The family settled in Iowa. Reyes spent most of her childhood in New Hampton, IA. She graduated from high school in 2008 and since then she had been working hard on getting her Bachelor’s Degree from University of Northern Iowa. Since Reyes is a DREAMer, she cannot ask for any financial aid to help pay for her education. That means she pays for her classes herself.
“I go to school as I can afford it and withdraw when I cannot afford it. I am now a senior in college with only a semester left to graduate,” Reyes said.
But before coming this close to graduating from college Reyes was like many other undocumented immigrants. As she said she felt like she did not have a voice and she did not feel free.
“I have lived first-hand afraid because of the legal restrictions imposed on the undocumented community,” she explained.
That is why she was one of the first ones to apply for DACA. She said she applied three days after application became available. Being protected from deportation helped her to improve her life. First of all she got a driver’s license which also serves as an ID and gives her peace of mind.
“This peace of mind is from no longer having to fear that my money would be wasted on tickets for driving without driver’s license and that I could be deported from simply being pulled over by a state patrol,” Reyes explained the relief she gained from getting a simple driver’s license.
Having a driver’s license helped her to get a better job and a better job means she now can pay for school and start making more serious financial decisions.
“I was also able to start building my credit and even bought a home within a year of having DACA,” Reyes shared her experience.
Another benefit of DACA that Monica Reyes enjoys is a chance to give back to the community. She explained that thanks to proper documents she can now volunteer while in the past she was restricted from that due to background checks. But above all Monica Reyes values her independence and her newfound voice.
“DACA helped me to become independent and self sufficient, so that I do not become a victim of exploitation like so many people do when they are undocumented,” she explained.
And when it comes to finding her voice, Monica Reyes started advocating for immigrants who did not get a chance like she did. She became very vocal and along with her sister she founded DREAM Iowa in 2012. At first, her mother was afraid of Reyes speaking out publicly.
“She thought that it would put me in danger because at the time I began speaking up for immigrant rights, I was still completely unprotected by DACA (it had not been announced yet),” Reyes remembered. She added that her mother was worried that her daughter’s comments would get her deported or used somehow against her.
“Over the years, she became very accustomed to it and realizes that if I don’t speak up for those who remain voiceless, no one will,” Reyes said.
Even now her family still worries that her mother might get deported if Reyes continues to speak up. Although the danger of deportation might be there, Reyes believes that if no one speaks up then changes will not happen.
“To me truly is very saddening to see immigrant families suffering mainly because of their legal status. It is hard-working families that want nothing more than a brighter future for their children, but cannot provide such a future under their legal circumstances,” Reyes explained her reasons for speaking up.
This year the DACA program celebrated its third year. Many lives were changed and improved because of this program. Monica Reyes’ story echoes thousands of stories of young people like her from all over the country. They are not just numbers on the survey they are human beings full of dreams and hopes and they are trying to make it happen.
Photos by Erika Macias