A Dreamer For Others

By Marco Castellon, Loyola Law School at Loyola Marymount University

Marco Castellon (Loyola Law School)

To my DACA-mented community:

As the elevator rose to the top of the Immigration Courthouse in El Paso, Texas, I felt the cascade of impending heartbreaks if I lost my case. Betrayal: from being deported by the country I love and hoped to serve. Dejection: stinging with every last goodbye to my classmates, friends, siblings and parents. The woman I just started seeing, but who already captivates me — I would be selfish asking her to deal with this so early on.

I’ve always known I was undocumented. As a child and as an adult, I’ve often imagined myself in immigration court, fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. On March 4, 2019, that day arrived.

I needed to be calm, so I did what we do when we doubt ourselves: I thought of my parents. Armed solely with a belief in themselves, and this country, they set off. With a rudimentary grasp of the English lexicon, and little formal education, they built the altar our achievements rest upon. In moments of weakness or exhaustion, I think of their sacrifices and those of generations before them. It was time to place an offering on their altar.

We enter the courtroom. I greet the judge, the government’s attorney, and we take our seats. I turn to our client. Our eyes meet, and I see a fear I’ve known all my life: exile. I assure her that regardless of what happens, she will be okay. But in Texas, a state with one of the lowest success rates in immigration proceedings, she’ll likely be deported.

Gratitude drives me. As a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) recipient, we are a precious few. Of 11 million undocumented individuals, we are 700,000. Permitted to legally work in renewable two-year increments, we are at the lowest priority for deportation. For a fortunate few, DACA allowed us to follow our dreams. I attend Loyola Marymount University’s Loyola Law School in California, where it was only in 2014 that that the State Bar began accepting undocumented individuals to practice law. California is one of only six states that grant us this privilege.

Through my participation in Loyola’s Immigration Law and the Border Practicum, I was able to travel to El Paso during spring break. Once there, my classmates and I were assigned cases being heard in immigration court that week. In pairs, we quickly set to work: reviewing documents, contacting clients and preparing witnesses for court. Everyone advocated zealously. My partner and I persuaded a judge that our client was a law-abiding person, deserving of the opportunity to remain in the country. As an undocumented immigrant, to make my first court appearance in immigration court of all places, and help an undocumented woman stay in the country, both empowered and humbled me.

To the extent that undocumented and minority students encounter social and economic disadvantages at every stage of their educations, we do not belong here. Yet, despite a lifetime of walls and obstacles, many of us have climbed and thrived. I ask, though, what is success worth if we abandon our foundations? Language barriers, coupled with a fear of the legal system, have placed our communities at the mercy of groups peddling divisive rhetoric for cheap political gain. Our communities imparted us with their greatest strengths so we could serve as their advocates and guides. We are their greatest weapons, and they are relentlessly under attack.

After starting law school, and seeing the dire lack of Hispanic attorneys, I decided I would build my career by bringing my two communities together. I plan to open one of the first law partnerships founded by DACA recipients. We will serve as a safe space for legal assistance, focusing on the areas of law most pertinent to the undocumented and immigrant communities. We will use earnings from the more profitable practices to subsidize others. By openly advertising ourselves as undocumented, I believe we will create a new market — one desperately needed for our community that rightfully mistrusts the legal system at every level.

We may still be deported. We’ve already lost our protections once, and we’re only one court decision away from losing them again. If I do not gain legal status, and am one day unceremoniously banished from the only home I’ve known, it will not change what I hope will be my life’s ultimate contribution: for my efforts and path to help serve as a foundation for the next generation of great minority attorneys — much like my path has been, and will continue to be built on the efforts and sacrifices of indomitable generations before me.
Marco Castellon is a second-year student at Loyola Marymount University’s Loyola Law School, where he is an advocate in the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic.

As the House Judiciary Committee prepares to mark up H.R. 6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) encourages all students, faculty, staff and alumni of the nation’s 28 Jesuit institutions to contact their members of Congress and ask for their support to protect DACA students, as well as those who benefit from TPS and DED. Click here to contact your member today.