A Dreamer Works for Justice in the Nation’s Capital

By Jose Cabrera, Xavier University ‘18

Jose Cabrera (Xavier University ’18) with his mother

“Amam, did you ever think I would go to college?”

“No. You’re undocumented and remember what the doctors said about your learning disability. Your sisters are citizens so they could probably go to college.”

“Oh. I see.”

An awkward silence filled the car that my mom and I were driving in. “Amam, did you ever think one of your kids would go to Xavier University?”

“No. We clean the home of the families who send their kids there.”

I was one month away from becoming a college freshman at Xavier University, when my mom and I had this conversation while driving on her way to work.

My mom and I came to this country trying to escape the poverty we lived in Mexico. We were in search of this mythical idea called the American Dream, but came to find hardships, domestic violence, racism, fears of deportation and homelessness. Through it all, my mom found ways to keep moving my sisters and me forward in the search for a better life. At the age of 15, I made a plan to get a college degree so that I could get a job and make enough money that my mom would never have to clean anyone’s home ever again.

With so many obstacles in front of me, I kept moving forward as my mom taught me to do. And for some reason, things started to fall into place. Pro-immigration advocates pressured President Obama to create DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) in the summer of 2012, giving eligible undocumented youth work authorization and protection from deportation. By the time I was applying for colleges, I had DACA, and the Ohio legislature had passed a bill called Buckeye Forever. The bill allowed DACA recipients who lived in Ohio to receive in-state tuition at any Ohio college.

The day I got my acceptance letter from Xavier, I was speechless. My mom started calling everyone to tell them the big news. But the celebration was short-lived: some individuals were quick to remind me that Xavier was not cheap and hinted that I couldn’t afford it. The concept of DACA was still new for most people, but little by little, scholarships made DACA recipients eligible to receive funding cor college. So, I applied to every single scholarship I could find that didn’t specifically say that applicants had to be a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen.

In most of my applications, I had to explain what DACA is. I felt like I was trying to convince people that I wasn’t a criminal like the media played me to be. I didn’t get all of the scholarships that I applied to, but I did get some. Along with a handful of Xavier-based and small outside scholarships, my financial aid added up to be a full ride to Xavier. I did it.

On May 12, 2018, I graduated from Xavier University. The road leading up to that day was long, challenging, and filled with sleepless nights. On most days I felt like the journey to get a college degree was designed to break me. But I loved every moment of it, and I wouldn’t trade a single millisecond of the experience.

I started Xavier with a plan to graduate and work at a company where I could make a lot of money so that my mom would never have to work again. But Xavier had another plan for me. It was where I discovered my passion: advocating against injustice. After graduation, I moved to Washington D.C. to be the next Government Relations Associate at NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.

The Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6) will give a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders and DED holders but most importantly it will — on paper — recognize these individuals as the Americans they’ve always been. I just renewed my DACA, and if the bill doesn’t become law, I only have two years of guaranteed work eligibility and protection from deportation. My story is one of the millions of Dreamers, TPS holders and DED holders. It’s time that we advocate for our fellow Dreamers and be recognized as the Americans we are.

Jose Cabrera graduated from Xavier University in 2018. He currently works as a Government Relations Associate for Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice in Washington, D.C.

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.