The Faces of DACA

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Luis Fernandez Ruiz

Soft-spoken with a smile ear-to-ear, Luis talks about his love for photography. “When I go out with my friends, I never turn off my camera. I’m that guy who takes pictures of everything.”

Luis is a freshman computer science major who moved to the United States from Puebla, Mexico when he was five years old. He hasn’t been back since.

“Puebla is known for making Christmas decorations, so there isn’t really that much money until December,” says Luis. “My mom saw [moving to the United States] as an opportunity so we wouldn’t be stuck in that small little town making Christmas decorations all of our lives.”

Because Luis renewed his DACA recently — just two months ago — he will keep his status for almost two more years. The Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA now leaves Luis uncertain if he’ll be able to renew it again. At that point he will be a junior.

“I honestly have no desire to leave,” Luis says. “I came to the US at such a young age that I don’t really remember what Mexico was like. I’d feel weird just leaving.”

When asked about plans after graduation, Luis said. “I guess what every other student thinks. I’m only a freshman. My plan is to get a good job and start earning some income.”

“And returning or paying back my mom for all the sacrifices she’s made of getting me through college and high school.“

Luis’ family lives near the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Luis lives at home and joked that although he loves his mom dearly, she’s always asking when he’ll be home and who he’s with — typical mom questions.

Luis came to USF because they offered him the most financial aid. This is something DACA recipients are forced to consider, since they are not eligible for federal grants. California is one of only five states that offers state financial aid to in-state DACA and undocumented students.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to have the same opportunities as everyone else just because we’re undocumented,” said Luis. “A piece of paper — a citizenship — does not determine what we are and what we can be. It’s what we make of ourselves.”

Dioscelenne Tlatenchi Guzman

Dioscelenne felt a pull towards USF as soon as she stepped on campus. “I fell in love with how small the classes were and how its like a community. That’s something I always had when I grew up.”

She added with a laugh, “that, and of course the academics!”

A freshman at USF, Dioscelenne is from Santa Ana in southern California. She has lived there for all but one year of her life. It is this one year when she was born near Mexico City that dictates much of her future.

With a steadfast tone, Dioscelenne explained why her family left Mexico. “We lived in the area where drug dealing was a big thing and… my biological dad was included in that gang. They forced him to.”

“They told him if ‘you don’t get in the gang we’re gonna kill your spouse and your daughter,” she said. “My mom was currently pregnant with my brother… so they basically just escaped.”

Dioscelenne’s DACA is set to expire in February 2019, when she will be a junior. If Congress does not pass a bill to legalize DACA, she will go back to undocumented status and possibly face deportation.

She hopes that’s not the case. As a DACA recipient in 2017, she can’t say for certain what jobs she’ll be able to hold or financial aid she’ll be able to secure for graduate school. “I am thinking about possibly being a physician’s assistant (PA),” she said. “But I want to focus on being a PA for low-income communities.”

While Dioscelenne thinks about her future career, she also has plans for today. “I’m thinking of making the DREAMers club, which is open for students who want to support undocumented students. I’m hoping I can create it this year and have something available for… students who are going through this situation.”

 

Darwin Velasquez

Darwin, a senior international studies major, was 13 years old when he faced his first deportation order. “I was given the chance to stay in the [United States], so I had court hearings and all that good stuff. The third [hearing], I was told ‘If you don’t bring a lawyer next time, we will deport you.’”

Darwin said, “At that time, my parents were so broke, they couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer here. So I didn’t go and they automatically placed me on deportation proceedings.”

He might have been deported if it wasn’t for then-president Obama’s announcement of DACA. Darwin immediately applied and was granted DACA status. He reapplied this past April and will hold status until 2019.  

Darwin was born in El Salvador. “The violence in El Salvador is terrible. It was 2005 and the gangs were [increasing] violence dramatically. What really scared us was when we started receiving threats to send money to the gangs.”

“My mom at some point was like, ‘okay i’m tired of this,’ so she decided to move to the US. Of course, I didn’t have a choice.”

Darwin has severe cataracts and is legally blind because of them. Part of the reason why his family moved to the United States was for doctors they did not have access to in El Salvador.

Darwin graduates this May and is thinking of how he can work in the U.S. after. “Right now, I’m the national DREAMer coordinator at College Track National.” This is a nonprofit to help underserved communities send students to college.  

However, because of the uncertainties surrounding DACA, Darwin can’t count on working there after 2019, when his DACA is set to expire.

He said, “I don’t know if my company will let me stay as an independent contractor. If they don’t accept that, then I have the option of going to law school.” If Darwin goes to law school, he might be able to stay in the United States on a student visa.

Darwin’s already studying for the LSAT. He said, “My dream school is USF law. I want to stay local.”

Why stay local? “I like the cafes in San Francisco,” Darwin said, “I love coffee.”

 

Photos by Racquel Gonzales/ Foghorn

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