PHOENIX — Last June, the Obama Administration introduced a plan to give certain young illegal immigrants relief from deportation and the opportunity to work legally in the United States.
The program is known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. According to the Immigration Policy Center, about 53,000 of them live in Arizona and either qualifies now for it or could later apply for the program.
For Dulce and Viviana Vazquez, Deferred Action gave them a hopeful future. Dulce, 21, and her sister Viviana, 20, were born in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. For as long as they can remember, they’ve been fighting for a way to overcome their illegal status in the U.S.
“There were times when that fire within us was just so powerful we’re like, we’re not going to give up, we’re just going to keep going and if someone is going to push me, I’m going to push them harder.” Dulce said.
In 1994, Dulce, her mom and younger sister boarded a bus for a bumpy three-day ride to the Nogales border. The three crossed the border in the cover of night to reunite with the girls’ father, who had been working in the U.S.
“We were coming to join him as a family, to be together forever,” said Juana Vazquez, mother of Dulce and Viviana. She recalls packing only diapers and formula, essentials for the long trip to the border.
For Dulce and Viviana, growing up felt normal, until they realized their situation was a little different. When they reached their teenage years, reality sunk in. They were going through stages in life others around them took for granted. “I wanted to go to school, I wanted to be able to get a job so I could go to school,” Viviana said.
However, in order to drive, get a job and receive college scholarships, they needed a Social Security Number. Since they crossed the border illegally, they didn’t have one. Dulce says she found herself preaching a future to fellow classmates she only wished she could believe for herself.
“I was elected by my classmates to give a speech for my graduation. But as I was standing there talking about how amazing school had been and how exciting things were going to be, I had this exterior of happiness. To be honest it was one of the worst days of my life,” Dulce said.
Over the last few years, the sisters have closely watched the battle over immigration reform and the DREAM act. The inability to get something passed in Congress almost tipped Viviana over the edge.
She remembers the case of Texas DREAMER Joaquin Luna, who took his own life in 2011, despairing of his future as undocumented. Viviana has felt Luna’s anger.
“I think a lot of DREAMERS can relate. They’ve been to that point, and I feel like I have reached that point, and I think something’s always kept me here, and I think it was my family,” she said.
The sisters remember seeing the DREAM Act make it to the senate floor several times only to be struck down. When it failed again in 2010, Dulce was crushed.
“We could see it right there, right in front of us. I thought it was about to become a reality; everyone was very optimistic about it,” Dulce said. So when it failed, I was completely devastated.”
Neither Dulce nor Viviana gave up hope. Through their ups and downs they stuck together. “Me and Vivi were each other’s support system,” Dulce said. “Whenever I would have an episode, Vivi could just tell.”
Today, the Vazquez sisters feel hopeful. They both received Deferred Action status. It allows them to temporarily work in the U.S. without immediate fear of deportation.
They’re both at Phoenix College working towards degrees. They’re still dreaming of one day reaching the American Dream and becoming U.S. citizens. They are now looking with eyes wide open, the future of the new immigration reform proposal introduced by the Gang of Eight.