Arlin: A Dreamer’s Story

Arlin speaks at a rally

I came here with my mom when I was four. The lady who crossed us was a coyote, I guess. I lived in Houston maybe three months, and then we went to North Carolina. I remember having to be quiet at the safe house. We were in a trailer. For me, staying quiet all the time was the hardest part.

We crossed two times. The first time, I got caught and deported along with my mom. The second time we crossed, my mom, she actually got caught and deported. So, it was hard being separated from my mom!

And you were only four? Tell me a little more about that. You crossed at the U.S.-Mexico border, right? How did you physically cross?

I don’t remember much. I just remember there was this man who had to help my mom, and I was on his shoulders when we actually crossed the river.

I was on the poetry team at my high school, and I wrote about it. My mom told me “Just keep quiet and we’re going to go see Mickey Mouse.” And I remember being so scared of the water because we didn’t have swimming pools where I was from in Mexico. I remember being really cold and my jeans being wet and the lights from the immigration agents doing their patrols.

The first time when we got caught, I remember the coyote saying, “You’re on your own now!” We hid in the bushes and my mom said, “Don’t say anything. We’ll be okay.” And I remember my mom was shaking and all of a sudden we saw the lights and then I remember being in a little cell in the detention center and asking my mom why she was doing this.

And then we went back to Mexico and tried again. Our destination was my aunt’s house in Houston and we got separated. Because leaving from the safe house, there was only room for one passenger and my mom had me go first — without her. And from there I went to another safe house where there were families. And then I remember this man taking me to my aunt’s house in Houston and my aunt cried because I didn’t recognize her and I was begging for my mom. But it turned out that there had been a raid at the safe house where my mom was, and she had been deported.

But in less than a month, my mom crossed again and she made it to my aunt’s house in Houston. My uncle told us there was work in North Carolina, so we came here and stayed.

Being an activist for DACA isn’t just for DACA. It’s for all immigrants who are going through this hardship of families being torn apart. It’s so heartbreaking to hear these congressmen talking about DACA recipients like they’re a product. They see us as the “perfect immigrant.” They make it seem like our achievements are more important than our humanity. So our focus is not just on the DACA recipient and the “perfect immigrant,” but on ALL immigrants.

We just had a rally and I was honored to speak at it. It was organized by Comunidad Colectiva. They organized this rally for the DACA kids as we received the announcement that Trump planned to end DACA.

One girl was just in tears. She couldn’t speak anymore because she had just realized that she might not be able to finish the school year. I have friends that are not going to graduate or go to their prom unless some other legislation comes to take DACA’s place in the next six months. And I’m so thankful that I got to live those moments!

If they’re going to take us out, then we’re going out with a bang! Hopefully we can do something for every immigrant — for our parents and the kids coming behind us. I’m so thankful to the activists who made DACA happen, and now it’s our turn! Maybe we can make immigration reforms that are bigger and more stable. And without kids having to pay more than $500 every two years.

Oh! I didn’t realize that you had to renew DACA every two years.

Yes, and that’s just to send in the paperwork. I do mine with a notary and she charges an additional $200 to do it. She makes a discount for us because she is a family friend. There are kids who are paying way more than that!

Do you think the Dream Act is a good solution or is there an even better solution for immigration reform?

The Dream Act is good, but it just focuses on DACA recipients. But what’s going to happen to the other immigrants?

Like your mother, for example?

Yes.

I had to take a gap year because DACA kids can’t get financial aid or student loans. My scholarships covered almost everything, but not quite. There was $10,000 left for my tuition and my parents couldn’t pay it. So I am working. I have been telling myself that I’m going to work really hard and save up everything. But now I’m realizing that I might not be saving money for college but for my new life in a country that I barely even remember.

I try to be strong and show up to rallies and protests and do my part, but it’s hard. I have to take those days off from work.

Friends tell me that I shouldn’t go to these rallies. They say, “They’re going to get you.” That’s the fear that everyone has — that they are going to get arrested. There are kids who are afraid to renew their DACA now because they’re afraid Trump will just deport all of them.

My DACA expires June 8, so I can’t apply again. In less than nine months, I have to go back to Mexico if there is no solution.

You and your mom went through a lot to come to this country. What was your mom’s motivation for coming to the U.S.?

My biological father left us when I was three years old. As a single mother from a humble background and with no work experience, it was hard for her to find a job in Mexico. We were dirt poor! We joke about it now, but we survived on Ramen noodles for most of my childhood. There were nights when we [pause] we just didn’t have anything to eat. I can remember my mom crying.

She used to work at a café in Mexico and I can remember her sneaking me these little muffins and telling me to be quiet and go away.

It sounds like you had to be a really disciplined child — staying quiet and being careful….

My mom had me when she was very young so we grew up together. We are so close and we find strength in each other. We just keep on going.

Even when they told us that DACA was over, my mom just hugged me and said, “Everything will be okay.” And that same night we had that rally, and it was my mom’s strength speaking through me. Those hard years we had make me the strong person that I like to think I am.

I think you’re so brave for speaking out, despite the risks, and I’m wondering: Does fear just hit you sometimes?

I’m not scared of what’s going to happen to me. I am more scared of what might happen to my mom. Would she have to go to jail? Because she has already been deported two times.

Every time I see a cop when we’re driving, I’m anxious. Because my dad drives without a license, and one time when I was fourteen he actually got pulled over and I was so afraid! I remember shaking and thinking, “This is it. This is the end.” And I was trying to translate for my dad with the cop, but I was so scared. The police officer told my dad, “The only reason I’m letting you go is because you’re with your family.” So every time my dad goes somewhere without us, I’m anxious he will be arrested and deported.

It’s scary to come home and not know if your parents are going to be there. I text them, and if they don’t text me back within ten minutes, I call them. Then I start freaking out. It’s a panic that you’re so used to! It affects you, this worry. In a way, you’re also a parent.

It’s also hard thinking about my honors classes and my AP classes and keeping my grades up and all the scholarships I got. But in the end it doesn’t matter. I could have been more of a teenager, instead of studying every night!

My future is so fuzzy. I would love to study political science and communications, and I feel like I have so much potential. I Facetime my friends in college and they’re showing me all this stuff they’re doing. And I feel so pathetic sometimes because I’m just a hostess at a restaurant. When I could be running for Senate of my university or doing things that I feel got stolen from me.

With the ending of DACA, there’s also the ending of TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for people who have suffered violence. Those people are left without any protection. We need to focus on ALL immigrants — not just the DACA recipients.

Yes. And there is so much ignorance about DACA. There were kids at school who would taunt me. They would be like, “Oh, undocumented immigrants receive everything.” But that’s not true. We can’t get Medicaid or welfare or financial aid or student loans. We aren’t offered any federal aid at all.

The fact that they think we’re leaning on the government really makes me mad! We are on our own! Everything that we have, we have worked for!

And people always talk about how much the 800,000 DACA recipients contribute to the economy. That’s true, but think how much ALL the 14 million undocumented immigrants contribute!

We have had all these natural disasters. And you saw the report of the DACA firefighter who drowned rescuing people during Hurricane Harvey, but there are so many other immigrants who are also helping.

What encouraging words do you have for all those other immigrants who might read your story?

The DACA recipients are labeled as Dreamers, but in reality all immigrants are dreamers — coming here for the American dream. We made it this far: We crossed borders; we crossed rivers; we came on boats and trains. We made it this far, and now is the time to fight. If the 14 million of us get together and do something, we can make a difference and create something we can ALL benefit from.

[Interviewer’s Note: This interview was conducted by phone on September 12, 2017, transcribed, and lightly edited for length.]

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