Daring to be DREAMers

Mexican immigrants protected by DACA not only part of the nation’s story, but at the heart of the Stritch story, too

 
by Sara Woelfel
 
The roots of this story started quietly, years ago, as a new generation of students pondered life after high school, often dismissing college as an option.
 
They grew up uncertain of their place, of their rights, of their boundaries and, mostly, of what to expect when they woke up each morning. As boys and girls, they watched their parents working two or three jobs, struggling to navigate life in their second language, and existing quietly and under the radar as they steadily pursued a better life for their children.
 
Then, in 2012, families nationwide rejoiced with the announcement that President Barack Obama signed an executive order to create DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, making official a concept that legislators attempted to shape, debate and enact for years with no consensus. Suddenly, for a whole generation of undocumented youth and young adults, doors opened, including those leading them to the halls of Cardinal Stritch University.
 
As with any immigration policy, DACA did not come without its share of controversy, even among those who are beneficiaries of it. And, yet, it’s undeniable that DACA touched a whole generation of immigrants in very personal ways, allowing DREAMers to dream, teens to drive, students to work, graduates to apply to college, and young people to expand their boundaries.
 
And now the DACA story is a growing part of the Stritch story as the University recognizes and addresses the needs of this new generation of proud immigrant students, who are grateful for an opportunity to at last contribute to the country they consider home but wary of the tenuous national tensions that might at any time threaten their newfound freedoms.
 
At the heart of this story is a collection of earnest voices, full of gratitude and hope, but simultaneously realistic and edged with a hint of bitterness about the uncertainties of tomorrow and fickleness of politics. At the mere suggestion that Stritch Magazine planned to tell one student’s DACA story, several more students – including some with DACA, one U.S. citizen, and one undocumented – volunteered, almost pleadingly, to share their stories, too. And, while their stories reveal the richness, diversity and complexities of this issue, they simultaneously reveal an undeniable solidarity cementing among a generation that proudly, almost defiantly, refers to itself as DREAMers.
 
While similar messages and threads run through their stories, each of these students, all with ties to Mexico, spell out their individual stories, sometimes in painstaking detail and with fresh emotion, in a shared mission simply to invite people to listen with open hearts while pondering this divisive issue with a deeper awareness of the families affected by each policy change.

Introducing…

J.A., a DACA student studying political science who hopes to become a lawyer
“I came here at the age of two. I didn’t really choose to be here; I didn’t choose to come here. I understand why my mom and my dad decided to do it because they wanted all of us to be able to have a better life and they were afraid that couldn’t happen in Mexico.”

Y.G., a DACA student from Texas whose two sisters are U.S. citizens 
“It’s not the big things, like, ‘Oh I hate Mexican people.’ No, it’s the little things. And the little things do hurt and they do matter, but you have to brush it off and go on with your day, but it’s still awful.”

B.A.P, a DACA student who envisions working in TV broadcasting, where she hopes to have a platform for sharing stories of the Hispanic population 
“What if I didn’t have DACA status? Would I have gone to school? What would I have been doing? I can’t picture myself without it. Not now because I gained all these opportunities, all these things; what am I going to do when I don’t have it? It’s hard.”

H.A., a U.S. citizen with undocumented family members, who is preparing for a career in law enforcement
“But for me I always think about the privilege of just being documented versus the privilege of being undocumented and how a single paper can change your whole life completely.”
 
F.G., a DACA student who left Mexico at age 5 and whose brother also attends Stritch
“It’s been great, and I felt a lot of pressure off my shoulders just being able to drive, being here without fear of deportation, having a job and having all these opportunities. But there’s that stress that I’m on a clock or on a deadline, so that’s the scariest part.”

A.G, a DACA student who finds purpose and meaning in everything that’s happened in her life
“I’m able to open a bank account and pay my taxes, which is amazing, too. I consider myself a citizen – I’ve done my part. I feel like I’ve done everything a normal American would do. I feel a part of this country as much as they do.”

H.S., undocumented student recalls border crossing at age 11
“It got so dark, with no moon. I had no idea how the guy knew the road. We were holding hands tightly, branches hitting our faces. We walked all night."

* To protect the identity of each student’s family, the stories refer to students only by their initials even though many of the students gave permission to use their full names.

 
 
As students shared their stories, other aspects of the University’s role in this issue came to light. This whole series emerged in such an organic way, with each new conversation leading the series in fresh and, sometimes, unexpected directions. Read on:
 
DACA and other terminology – Read about the requirements for DACA applicants and brush up on other terms that often enter immigration discussions.
 
Stritch’s new niche – While reaching out to this new population of students, the University is earning a reputation that is creating a buzz in Milwaukee’s Hispanic community.
 
Legal minds converge – When uncertainties loom and questions arise, two lawyers with Stritch connections make themselves available to students at no cost.
 
No surprise to the Sisters – The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, foundresses of Stritch, see these latest efforts not as new but simply as confirming the values of the Congregation, dating back to the mid-1800s.
 
Franciscans at the border – Sister Rosalia Vadala, O.S.F. works with a border organization to assist families in need in a very similar ministry to one that alumni Sister Anita Jennissen, O.S.F., ’81, and Father Tom Luczak, O.F.M., ’73, participate in, as reported in a story in the Summer 2016 digital issue of Stritch Magazine.
 
Students join voices – A group of students affected by DACA and invested in the changing immigration policies in the United States formed Dreamers Welcome, a student organization focused on education, advocacy and activism efforts.
 
Activism through the ages –Dr. Daryl Webb, assistant professor of history, wrote a piece analyzing the ways students made their voices heard through each generation.
 
Leadership signs support document – Well before immigration discussions ramped up in recent months, the University’s leadership joined with other schools around the nation in a show of support for student immigrants.
 
Cuban immigrant ponders her identity – As immigrants leave their homelands behind, their whole sense of identity shifts as they assimilate to the new culture. One Stritch staff member shares her deeply personal reactions to a recent visit to Cuba after two decades living in the U.S.
 
Additional links:
“Catholic Church’s Position on Immigration Reform,” published August 2013 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
 
Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, published on the Department of Homeland Security website.
 
5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S. (2017) and 5 facts about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (2014), published by the Pew Research Center