“Four years ago, DACA changed my life.”
On immigration, family, and glass ceiling-shattering moments
Four years ago today, President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was implemented. Juan Gallegos is one of the more than 16,000 undocumented Coloradans who received work permits and deportation relief under DACA. Here is his story.
When my grandfather was young, he traveled with the harvest. From the border state of Chihuahua, he followed the work to New Mexico and Colorado and all the way up to Canada. Then he came back home to his family in Mexico. When my dad was young, he did the same thing. In that way, the United States seemed inevitable to me.
My father’s business went under when I was a child. He sold milk and cheese to the farmers, and when they started losing their jobs, his business couldn’t survive. My family waited until I was done with elementary school and then we moved to Hastings, Nebraska. We arrived on July 4, 2001. I remember the fireworks, the flags, the smell of barbecue in the air — it was like the whole country was welcoming me.
When we were living in Nebraska, my hometown in Mexico started getting more and more dangerous. We heard horrible stories. Towns were shut down. You couldn’t travel at night on roads we used to take all the time. People were disappearing. That’s when my family decided to stay in the United States — a choice between safety and danger, so it wasn’t really a choice at all.
I worked as hard as I could in school, for myself and for everyone around me. I wanted my friends to believe that education was attainable. I was always trying to help them find scholarships and visit universities—and at the same time, I had no idea whether I would be able to attend college myself.
In my senior year, I applied to the University of Nebraska at Kearney and earned a full-tuition scholarship. I still had to figure out how to pay for room and board. My parents were working in a meatpacking plant, where they’ve worked for the last 13 years—so that was a big chunk of money for us. I had been working so hard to help my friends get their educations, and I was $3,000 short from being able to go off to college and get my own.
My Spanish teacher that year was someone who had always believed in my potential. She asked what I was doing next year, and I told her that I didn’t know how to pay for that last $3,000. She took me out for coffee, signed a check, and told me to pay her back when I was done.
Even after college, I faced other barriers. In the summer of 2011, I was working as an irrigation pipe builder out in the cornfields. Every time I moved the wrench, I would think, “I have a college degree. I have a college degree.” But that was the only job available to me without documentation. I wanted to work in a career that would help people like me — but I didn’t have access to that.
DACA changed that. I remember getting my work permit in the mail and realizing that I could apply for any job I qualified for. I felt a sense of validation for all the hard work I had put in. It’s not easy to describe, but it was life-changing.
DACA’s implementation was a glass ceiling-shattering moment for me. Electing Hillary as president will be another one. That’s history being made. Like me, she understands the experience of being told that you can’t do something—and having the will and determination to do it anyway.
Hillary supports protecting and expanding DACA. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has pledged to repeal it. We can’t let Trump turn back the clock on sensible immigration policy. Sign up to volunteer and help us keep him out of the White House.