DACA Made a Future Nurse’s Dreams Become Reality

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By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

When Jose Aguiluz was 15, he was involved in a severe car accident in his native Honduras. Desperate for help, his aunt contacted doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The staff were able to perform the required surgery, and it wasn’t long before Jose and his aunt traveled from Honduras to the United States. His immediate family joined soon after so they could be by his side before and after the procedure.

The surgery came at a great cost, however. Jose’s parents had to sell everything they owned to pay for it and to be with him.

That was almost 10 years ago. Yet it was a fateful event for many reasons. During his stay at the prestigious medical facility, Jose discovered his passion for medicine. It also marked the beginning of a new life.

Jose remained in the U.S.—a decision that was beyond his control—and in time his visa expired. Despite the hardships brought on by his undocumented status, Jose proved to be a spectacular student. Although his status barred him from receiving financial aid, Jose managed to find jobs to pay his tuition and fees at Montgomery College. His workday started at 5:00 a.m., followed by classes at night.

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When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was established, Jose knew he had an opportunity to finally achieve his potential. He chose to pursue a nursing degree and was dedicated to making this dream come true, no matter what obstacles were in his way.

“Education is the path we have to become someone in our lives,” said Jose.

Jose continued to balance work and school once he started his nursing education. Despite a hectic schedule, he became active in his community too. He worked to pass the Maryland DREAM Act by canvassing neighborhoods and encouraging people to get out the vote. This civic experience made the DACA announcement that much more special for Jose.

On the day President Obama introduced DACA, Jose went to NCLR Affiliate CASA de Maryland to talk with fellow youth organizers and share in the victory they had worked so hard to achieve. He filled out his DACA application, anxious to receive his work permit and finally advance toward his dreams. The best part was being able to take his board examinations. Since January 2014, Jose has been employed at Washington Adventist Hospital as a registered nurse.

Jose has already achieved much, but the 23-year-old is just getting started. He continues to contribute to his community as a member of Casa’s board of directors. He is also continuing his studies and plans to pursue an advanced degree in public health at the school where it all started: Johns Hopkins University.

Without DACA, Jose knows that getting to this point would have been nearly impossible, and he pleads with Congress and the 26 states that have blocked DACA expansion and the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. “Only by removing these roadblocks can we show everyone what we’re capable of,” he says.

Gaby Gomez, NCLR Communications Department intern, contributed to this blog post.

Living the American DREAM: Joel Sati

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Sati discovered his passion for research after receiving DACA

By Gabriela Gomez, Communications Intern, NCLR

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Joel Sati, center

Last summer, Joel Sati landed the opportunity of a lifetime. The 22-year-old student originally from Nairobi, Kenya, had been accepted into a summer research program hosted by Stanford University and would spend the next eight weeks furthering his interests in political philosophy and immigration theory under the mentorship of some of the brightest scholars in his field.

The City College of New York (CCNY)-Stanford summer exchange program invites CCNY’s most talented students to spend a summer on the sunny Palo Alto campus conducting graduate-level research. Joel was one of ten students invited to participate in this highly selective experience. He was also one of two recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) who were selected.

“[It was] an awesome experience,” Joel said. “The ability to sit with preeminent individuals in the field and have their feedback gave me a tremendous opportunity to grow in the field and develop high-quality work.”

But if there is something more impressive than Joel’s academic resume, it’s his story. Rewind the clocks a few years and we’d be meeting a different Joel.

He’d be a high school student reeling from the discovery of his undocumented status just a few weeks shy of graduation. Facing a new set of financial roadblocks, he would no longer be a college-bound senior but rather one facing a life of uncertainty, his college and career aspirations shelved because of his immigration status.

After taking some time off from school, he tried again and enrolled at Montgomery College, but only for one class. “I wasn’t planning on graduating,” said Sati. “I wanted to see if school was the right fit and just wanted to take a philosophy class.”

That class proved worthwhile. By his second semester at Montgomery, Joel was enrolled full time and was a member of the Renaissance Scholars Program. Outside the classroom, he was actively involved in the push for the Maryland DREAM Act and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform with the organization United We Dream. His activism was spurred by the “undocu-friendly” community he had discovered at Montgomery College.

In June 2012, his activism was met with a huge triumph. From the steps of the White House Rose Garden, President Obama announced the creation of DACA, ushering in new hope and a new beginning for so many caught in a broken immigration system and denied an opportunity to thrive in this great nation.

For Joel, the impact of receiving DACA was life-changing. After graduating from Montgomery College as a Phi Theta Kappa honor student, he was accepted into the Skadden Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies at CCNY. Today, the philosophy major juggles a full course load and an internship at an immigration law firm in Harlem.

“[DACA] had a far-reaching effect,” said Joel. “Since moving to New York, I’ve been able to get really amazing research opportunities. Next fall, I’ll be applying to Ph.D. programs in philosophy and hope to one day teach at the college level.”

Though DACA has opened a number of doors for Joel, he is mindful of the work that still needs to be done to fix our broken immigration system and ensure that everyone has a success story to share. He’d like to remind lawmakers in Congress who are working to undo administrative relief the following:

“The immigration system, as it is, is poorly constructed and leads to horrible conditions for many families. I know of a lot of undocumented people—both kids and parents—who do a lot for the better of their communities [but] get such a raw end of that deal.”