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DREAMER STORY

Jose S. Software Engineer & Dreamer

DREAMER STORY

Jose S. Software Engineer & Dreamer

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When Jose, 22, tries to remember coming to the U.S. from Mexico, the details are faint. He was just five years old when he and his mother moved to California to live with Jose’s dad, who was working in the Salinas Valley. It was a huge risk for Jose’s parents to move the family away from everything they knew in Mexico, and the decision changed his life. Jose is undocumented, which he only learned as he prepared to graduate from high school. “When I started applying for colleges, I realized I didn’t have a social security number. It was only then that I really found out.” In the process of applying to colleges, Jose discovered he was eligible for DACA, a federal program which afforded him the opportunity to work and continue to attend school in the U.S.

If the Supreme Court decides to take up DACA litigation in its’ upcoming term, Jose could lose these protections, along with nearly 700,000 other young immigrants. In 2018, the Justice Department petitioned for certiorari in the face of conflicting rulings from several lower courts, with the intention of expediting the case to the Supreme Court. Supporters of DACA have fared well in the effort to keep the program going, with courts in Washington, DC, New York and California blocking a shutdown of the program, but DACA’s future still hinges on either congressional legislation or a ruling by the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court agrees to intervene and hear the case, there could be a decision on DACA as soon as this summer.

The trouble my parents went through themselves to provide a better future for me and my sisters is truly breathtaking.”

With the help of DACA, Jose graduated from college, and now works as a software engineer at a global investment corporation in San Francisco. “The trouble my parents went through themselves to provide a better future for me and my sisters is truly breathtaking,” says Jose. “I want to make sure their struggle was worth it. Seeing how far I’ve progressed in life through the guidance and support of my family has allowed me to be conscious and appreciate the opportunities that have come across for me, as well as give back to the community of immigrants that travel the same path as myself.”

The family had decided to move north from a town in Michoacán, Mexico, due to the lack of economic opportunities there. Jose’s parents grew up in agriculture, and they’ve worked in the fields outside of Salinas, sometimes seven days a week, for close to twenty years. They encouraged Jose to apply for DACA, although they knew it would mean coming out of the shadows and making himself visible to the government. “As time passed, my family and I researched more into DACA, and we saw it as an opportunity to allow my sister and I to have a form of legal status within the U.S.” says Jose. “Being the oldest, I knew that I would always be the example for my younger siblings and family members. They look up to me for the things I have accomplished and follow in my footsteps so they too can become successful in their own ways. My parents made sure to tell me, even if I’m in a more difficult situation than most people, I have to have the ganas (grit) to take on any challenge, no matter my situation.”

As a DACA recipient, Jose was not eligible to receive federal student loans or grants. Jose earned his degree with the financial support of his parents, his own income from part-time jobs, academic scholarships, and a small amount of financial aid from the state of California. The California Dream Act, which was signed into law in 2011, allows undocumented students in California who meet both GPA and in-state tuition standards to apply for state financial aid.

They look up to me for the things I have accomplished and follow in my footsteps so they too can become successful in their own ways.”

Still, the program covers a relatively small amount of tuition: “I didn’t really receive much financial aid from [the California Dream Act], and the only time I did was towards the last two semesters of my undergraduate,” says Jose. “When I did receive that tuition, it was only a quarter or less of what other students obtained through FAFSA. I paid my way through college by both working and applying for grants and scholarships. I managed to get accepted into an accelerated 3-year computer science program called CS-in-3. As part of this program, they provided me with a full scholarship to help alleviate the burden of getting a higher education.”

Jose’s parents have helped support him by harvesting and packaging crops common to the Salinas Valley, jobs with an immense physical toll. “You don’t know how difficult your parents have it until you walk a mile in their shoes. I did some work in agriculture, helping out my dad, and saw just how hard it is. You have to be up by 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning, and be ready by 6:00AM. Then you tend to work for 12 hours at a time. In the summer, it’s especially hard because of the heat. It’s always an issue they have to deal with, heat-related illnesses. In the winter, you have to worry about the cold.” It concerns Jose that his parents have to work at such challenging jobs while living with the unpredictability of temporary work authorizations. Though they submitted their applications nearly twenty years ago, both his mom and dad are still waiting for their green cards.

You don’t know how difficult your parents have it until you walk a mile in their shoes.”

Thanks to his parents, Jose had the opportunity to follow a different career path, but he can relate to their feelings of uncertainty. Once he was granted DACA, Jose was able to apply for a social security number. He now must wait to hear whether the Supreme Court will rule upon DACA in its’ upcoming term. It would be an unusual step for the justices to bypass the federal appeals courts and step in before the case has moved through the normal process. If the Supreme Court does agree to take up the DACA litigation, it will likely announce these plans within the next month, and could issue a decision later this year. At the moment, the DACA program is accepting renewals but not new applicants. If the program were ended, currently protected individuals could be deported, though it’s unclear how quickly that might happen.

“It’s a ticking time bomb. What am I supposed to do, in the one year and six months I have here before my DACA expires? That hangs above my head. I try not to worry about it too much, I don’t want my whole life to revolve around it. I keep it in mind, but I don’t let it control my life,” says Jose. He stays focused on work, friends, and family, often visiting his parents in Salinas on the weekends when they have a day off.

Even if there’s nobody in front of me to look up to, I know there will be people behind me. You’re the one that’s leading the pack, in a sense.

He also serves on the leadership board of a San Francisco nonprofit that’s dedicated to uniting and increasing the number of Dreamers and immigrants in tech. “One of the things I noticed growing up, especially in college, was the importance of mentorship. It was a huge help to know somebody who had been there, who could help me learn those different skills,” says Jose. “Even if there’s nobody in front of me to look up to, I know there will be people behind me. You’re the one that’s leading the pack, in a sense. When people can see you came from the same background and overcame it, it gives them more anímo (courage, hope) to do the same.”

“Our current immigration system is due for an upgrade, as the whole immigration is biased and outdated to cope with the recent influx of immigrants,” says Jose. He hopes that lawmakers will someday work together to protect DACA, and push for comprehensive immigration reform. “I’m sure that lawmakers that want to reform immigration are doing the best they can, but they are being slowed down by both internal and external factors that prevent change from happening. There needs to be more emphasis on improving the immigration system itself, to simplifying the process and reducing or eliminating the hurdles put in place by previous administrations.”