Determined to Achieve the American Dream: Yazmin Abreu

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By David Castillo, Communications Department, NCLR

This week in “Living the American DREAM,” we meet 30-year-old Yazmin Abreu of Orange County, California. Like so many young people profiled in this space, Yazmin arrived in the United States as a child. She was eight years old, and her young mind could not fully grasp why her family was leaving what she thought was a happy life in Mexico. What she didn’t realize was that her father, like many parents, was looking for a way to sustain his family, and coming to the U.S. was the chance to realize his potential. He decided to move first, and Yazmin, her siblings, and her mother would join later.

For much of her early life, Yazmin was not aware of her immigration status. She struggled some in school, though not with her academics. Rather, Yazmin had difficulty socially. Thanks to a great elementary school teacher who took an interest her, she was able to overcome these challenges. In middle school Yazmin discovered that she was an undocumented immigrant. That revelation would affect how guarded she was about many details of her private life.

Despite the problems presented by her status, Yazmin was determined to go to college, though she knew getting there would not be easy. However, thanks to the California DREAM Act, she was able to pay in-state tuition. She also confided in a guidance counselor about being undocumented, and that counselor helped her in the college application process.

Although she was able to attend college, it wasn’t always an easy road. Yazmin’s commute to and from school was an hour and a half every day. Often she made use of the computer labs until they closed, and she wouldn’t get home until midnight. She admits that it took a while for her to graduate, as she had to take some time off to raise funds for classes. Her hard work and dedication finally paid off when, in 2012, Yazmin graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a degree in health science education.

Freshly graduated and ready to work, Yazmin didn’t find a job easily, especially due to her immigration status. Later that year, however, after receiving administrative relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Yazmin hit the ground running, reveling in the practice of even applying for a job legally.

“Right now, I can go to websites, look for jobs, and apply to them, and it is such a sense of freedom,” said Yazmin. She was even excited to go to the DMV. “I had the biggest smile on my face. I was finally able to set foot in there. That fear just goes away.”

Yazmin is still searching for the right career, and she is determined to make it happen. In the meantime, she wants to ask those who are blocking expanded DACA and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) why they are so intent on deporting people who will contribute greatly to the United States, especially given the numbers of people who are already benefiting from relief.

“This country needs DREAMers like us, so why give it away?” she asked. “I know I’m going to achieve the American Dream. They need to think about the future.”

Living the American DREAM: Katherine Perez

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By Gabriela Gomez, Communications Department Intern, NCLR

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Katherine Perez, far right. Photo: Katherine Perez

When Katherine Perez arrived in the United States from Colombia in 2005, she had one goal in mind: to get a great education that would pave the way to a better life. Her parents made the tough decision to leave their country after her mom got a job offer in the United States, the “land of opportunity.” Yet soon after settling in, the Perez family was met with a harsh reality: the attorney overseeing their immigration case had fled the country, their paperwork and savings in tow.

Despite this setback, the Perez family was determined to move forward. Little by little, the family worked to rebuild their lives in Maryland. While her parents worked, Katherine poured herself into her schoolwork, taking honors courses in middle school and participating in the International Baccalaureate program at her high school. Though she thrived academically, her immigration status put her at an extreme disadvantage.

“I was very dependent on what my parents could help with and provide for me. [With] no money of my own, unable to drive and attend events and school programs—I felt as if everyone else my age was ahead of me, and I was falling behind every day more and more,” said Katherine.

When the college application period rolled around, the legal and financial barriers multiplied. It quickly became clear that the road to a college degree would be challenging and extremely costly.

With help from supportive mentors, Katherine obtained a private scholarship that enabled her to enroll as a full-time student at Montgomery College and work toward an associate’s degree. But economic difficulties at home meant she’d also have to juggle a part-time job to help support her two younger sisters.

As much as she tried, mounting pressures from school and work often led Katherine to question whether her degree was worth the hardship. Would the barriers of being undocumented ever be lifted?

Obama_SOTU3_resizedOn June 15, 2012, she got her answer by way of President Obama’s announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Though initially hesitant, Katherine set her fears aside, submitted her application, and hoped for the best.

Today, the 22-year-old DACA recipient is a student at the University of Maryland. Since receiving DACA, Katherine has found a steady job and transferred to the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in science. Thanks to DACA, she now looks to her future with renewed hope and resolve.

“I have a job and I am in the process of getting my driver’s license. I can now save money to pay for next semester and help out at home with the expenses. I feel more empowered and in charge of my life,” said Katherine.

Though these stories echo the power of DACA, they also echo the voice of an immigrant community eager to contribute to the progress and prosperity of the nation. Eager to prove the narrative of the American Dream is alive and well, and within reach. Katherine would like to remind those in Congress seeking to repeal DACA: “Even though we were not born in this land, we have grown to love and respect the national symbols, and to pledge allegiance to the flag. We are here not to bleed out the country, but to make it a better one and to contribute to [its] well-being.”

Living the American DREAM: Ana Angeles

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By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

DREAMers_cantwaitActivism can take on many forms. For some, it takes the form of community organizing or leading demonstrations. For others, that activism might take place online or at the voting booth.  For Ana Angeles, a 30 year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient from Orange County, California, that activism has taken place in her home assisting would-be DACA recipients with their applications. It’s something she has taken great pride in doing. While she never set out to serve as an advocate, it was during the experience of applying for DACA that she realized she had something to offer her community.

Ana has lived in the United States since she was 11. Her parents both left jobs at a university in Mexico in search of better lives for Ana and her younger sister.

As a student in the United States, Ana flourished. Indeed, as an outstanding member of the TEACH Academy, a high school program that preps future teachers, she was eligible to apply for a full scholarship to Vanguard University, a private Christian institution.

Ana ultimately graduated with a degree in business and with minors in math, religion, and accounting. She was excited to begin her career, but like so many young people in her position, she had to put those dreams on hold because of her immigration status. While she searched for a job, economic realities soon set in and she was forced to take one at a fast food joint. This would go on until the president announced the creation of the DACA program.

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Since receiving DACA two years ago, Ana has found work at a local education company as a program manager. It was a promotion from the community marketer position she had before. Having DACA made her eligible for the more substantive, full-time position.

Ana’s willingness to help others navigate the DACA application process, which requires preparation, is what makes her advocacy so remarkable. She is very busy and has always assumed great responsibility as the oldest of her two other siblings. When she started her own application process, she was appalled at the huge fees many lawyers were asking for as payment to assist with applying. Convinced that these lawyers were just taking advantage, Ana decided she would save her money and apply by herself. Through diligent research and organization, her dedication and commitment paid off eight months later.

AllInRally6In the two years since receiving DACA, Ana has helped friends and family successfully navigate the process, but like many advocates, she still asks herself what else she can do. It’s a question that has come up a lot as her renewal period approaches. Ana is still figuring out how to answer that question, but whatever the answer is, her future certainly looks bright and includes the pursuit of an advanced degree.

In the meantime, Ana has a message for those in Congress who seek to undo DACA: “All we want to do is the right thing, to work, and to contribute. I love this country and all that it has given me. Just give us the chance to show you.”

Cutting Vital Tax Credits for Working Families Will Put Our Nation’s Children at Risk

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

ACAdiabetesblog_pic1_resizedBy any measure, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), created by President Gerald Ford, has been a resounding bipartisan success. President Ronald Reagan, who substantially expanded the credit during his administration, called it “the best antipoverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure ever to come out of Congress.” The equally successful and bipartisan Child Tax Credit (CTC) was enacted during the Clinton administration and increased under President George W. Bush.

As a nonpartisan organization, NCLR has worked with all of these administrations, as well as with Congress, on both the EITC and the CTC. These tax credits have helped lift millions of families out of poverty and have had a measurable impact on the poverty rate in this country. So why, then, are some Republican members of Congress pushing for proposals to scale back the EITC and significantly reduce the number of families eligible for the CTC?

One answer is that they think these cuts will only affect immigrants, since they are proposing to exclude recipients of immigration relief, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), from receiving the credits. Some lawmakers might even believe that this is “good politics.” But they are very wrong, both on the substance and on the politics. The greatest beneficiaries of these tax credits are children—American children. More than 90 percent of the children who would be affected by these proposals are native-born U.S. citizens.

Cutting credits to these kids is fiscally unsound. Eliminating them would cost the average family about $1,800, yet studies show that an increase of just $1,000 in family income raises a child’s math score by 2 percent and reading score by 3.5 percent. Common sense dictates that removing this source of income would have an equally dramatic negative impact.

Putting these children’s educational achievement and their family’s financial stability at risk doesn’t just shortchange the kids—it shortchanges the future of everyone in this country. One in every four children is Latino. The average age of U.S.-born Hispanics is 18. These kids are our future workers and the future contributors to Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of the country’s safety net. We should be investing in these young children, not punishing them.

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This is what makes these proposals also morally bankrupt, an ironic twist given the professed pro-family, pro-faith, and pro-traditional values of the Republican Party. No matter how one feels about immigration policy, it is simply wrong to punish children for their parents’ deeds, as the Bible notes in Deuteronomy (24:16) and again in Ezekiel (18:20). DACA participants—the so-called DREAMers—were brought to this country as children. Those eligible for DAPA are, by definition, parents of U.S.-citizen or legal resident children. Has our political culture become so ugly that we would go out of our way to impose harsh measures on children raised in this country for simply being born into the “wrong” type of family, as some proponents of these cruel proposals assert?

I hope not. But if it has, the lessons will be memorable. A major strength of the Republican Party has been consistent fidelity to key maxims: low taxes, hard work, family values, and reverence for Judeo-Christian traditions. If its leaders allow devastating tax increases aimed squarely at Hispanic American children simply to score political points, they do so in knowing violation of their core values.

We will remember that the party’s principles were betrayed by the hypocrisy of some of its members. The Latino community will remember that the interests of more than four million of its children were sacrificed so a few politicians could pander to extremists. We hope candidates remember this episode in 2016, when they experience a record turnout of Hispanic voters.

Living the American Dream: Karina Velasco

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By Janet Hernandez, Senior Civic Engagement Project Manager, NCLR

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Karina outside the U.S. Capitol during the recent National Latino Advocacy Days.

The most recent snow storm to hit the Washington, DC, area could not stop Karina Velasco, a 25-year-old DACA recipient, from meeting with her congressional representatives and advocating for administrative relief. Since congressional offices were closed during National Latino Advocacy Days, Karina rescheduled her meetings to ensure Congress heard her story.

Her persistence comes from years of advocating for an opportunity to experience the American dream. Throughout her life Karina witnessed her parents’ struggle, perseverance, and hard work. Her mother cleaned restaurants and houses while also being a full-time mother. Her father held two jobs in construction and housekeeping to make ends meet. Their encouragement and daily sacrifices helped Karina make the choice to focus on her education.

“My mother always told me that education was the path to success, so I decided to become a social worker to advocate for those in need,” said Karina.

In 2012 she celebrated the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) announcement, and gathered the paperwork needed to apply. She also helped fill out hundreds of applications for other DREAMers who were eligible to apply for DACA. Since Karina received DACA, she has obtained a driver’s license, finished community college, transferred to a four-year university, and obtained a job. Having the job allows her to enter the workforce, pay taxes, and help others.

“Without DACA it would have been harder to accomplish this success. I can finally contribute to my country’s economy and lift some of my parents’ economic burdens,” said Karina.

This week, Karina met with her elected officials to highlight how well DACA works by demonstrating that she is an example of the program’s success.

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Karina (left), Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Rosa, program manager for NCLR Affiliate Latin American Youth Center

Like Karina, there are millions of other young Americans who need Congress to stand up for administrative relief rather than deny them the opportunity to contribute to the country and pursue the American dream.