Invisible Americans: An FSU Grad student reassesses DACA

[Shayna Yacyshyn]

Imagine living in this country for as far back as you can remember. Your friends and family live here. You’ve gone to school and graduated here. You learned how to drive here. You opened a savings account here. You learned how to read and write here. You learned how to tie your shoes here.

You experienced the tragedy of 9/11. You celebrated when Osama Bin Laden was killed. You witnessed Barack Obama become the first African-American president. You watched Boston police chase Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev across Watertown on live T.V. following the Boston Bombings.

And yet, every two years, you have to spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars to renew a document that allows you the same luxuries your neighbors and peers are given as a birthright – the ability to work, drive and study in the United States.

This is the life of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) receivers. Brought to this country as young children, DACA receivers are granted permission to stay in the country for two years at a time.

Once the two years are up, immigrants must reapply. This process not only costs them the DACA and the lawyer’s fees – it costs them peace of mind as well.

And life has never been more uncertain for DACA recipients than now. President Donald Trump has promised mass deportations of undocumented immigrants and, at certain points during his campaign, to eliminate the DACA program entirely.

Currently, over 780,000 immigrants are protected under the DACA program in the United States. In Massachusetts alone there are 12,058 DACA recipients. At Framingham State, there are 31 DACA students currently enrolled.

This week, The Gatepost is publishing the last of three articles depicting the lives of MetroWest DACA recipients, and what the policy has, and has not, given to them.

All names have been changed to protect the individuals featured.

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It was near the end of September and Jane was starting to grow nervous. She had reapplied for DACA months ago, and in a week, it would expire.

However, she had faith that any day now, she would receive an approval email.

Until, that is, she woke up on Monday, Oct. 3 and couldn’t go to work.

“One day, I had everything that I needed,” she said, “and the next day, I had nothing.”

Unsure of when she would receive a paycheck again, Jane pulled her daughter out of daycare.

Jane is a graduate student at Framingham State University, and has been a DACA recipient since the program was first instituted in June 2012.

For two weeks, Jane wouldn’t know whether she would be able to resume her life, or if she would be back to square one. Her ability to afford her classes, home and care for her daughter hinged on being reapproved for DACA.

And while Jane did receive her approval email two weeks later granting her permission to resume her life, the experience changed the way she viewed DACA forever.

“It’s like I’m building my house on sand. I can make plans for the future,” she said. “But tomorrow, everything could be completely different.”

Immigration and

assimilation

Jane was 9 years old when she immigrated to the United States on July 22, 1992. Her mother had already been in the country for three years, working in a factory in Holliston and sending money back to Jane, her brother and her grandparents.

Her mother decided to move to the States after divorcing her father, and she feared what kind of future her children would have in Brazil.

Jane said there is a “baseline level of violence” in Brazil. However, she didn’t feel “particularly in danger.

“That may have been because my mom’s family was very humble. We didn’t have flashy things,” she said. “But, I couldn’t wear certain things to school because I could get mugged. Sneakers, for some reason, were always a big thing. … You had to have average stuff.”

As a child, Jane said her grandparents would often send her on errands. She would hide the money in her shoes, and her grandparents would always warn her not to take it out before she reached her destination.

When her mother decided to bring Jane and her brother to the United States, she kept it a secret from Jane’s father, whom she feared would try to stop her.

“We never really said goodbye,” said Jane.

While her father lived in a different state and rarely came to visit, she was still sad to leave him behind.

“I didn’t know exactly when I would see him again,” she said.

Her mother had left Brazil when Jane was 6 years old. She left in the middle of the night, and Jane and her brother had no idea she was leaving.

“We woke up and she was gone,” she said.

Consequently, Jane said she didn’t really remember her mother.

“I had pictures of her. She would always write and send pictures. I had this puzzle with her picture that she had sent us, and I would put it together,” she said.

Jane’s grandmother accompanied her and her brother on the flight up, and stayed for three years before returning to Brazil.

It was Jane’s first time on an airplane, she said. But that wasn’t the reason she was nervous.

“It was very like, ‘Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t say anything to anyone. Just keep your mouth shut,’” she said. “I was 9 years old and I was afraid.”

When they finally made it to Boston and Jane was reunited with her mother, it was “a little tricky,” she said.

Jane was angry with her mother for leaving her and her brother behind, and blamed her for many of the hardships she had had to endure.

While her mother was gone, Jane had been molested by a family member.

When she came to the United States, she decided to forget about the incident. She never told anyone, out of fear she would be blamed.

However, a year later, she learned her abuser would be moving to America as well.

“I started to get really scared that it was going to start happening again,” she said.

So, she decided to tell her mother.

“She looked at me with a very blank expression and said, ‘You are not the first person this has happened to and you won’t be the last.’ And she walked out of the room,” she said.

Jane believed she had made a mistake by telling her mother. However, years later, her mother told her she had confronted the family member and threatened to call the police.

“I didn’t know that all of this was happening. I didn’t know that all of this had taken place. In my mind, I was thinking, ‘I just told you my deepest, darkest secret and you just broke me in half,’” said Jane.

Her mother had said what she did because she didn’t want Jane to “wallow in her self-pity,” she said.

To this day, Jane said, she and her mother are not very close.

“I think I misunderstand her a lot. I think she misunderstands me a lot. I don’t know if that’s because we spent so many years apart,” she said.

Jane lived with her mother, brother and aunt in a one-bedroom apartment for the first few years of her life here.

In addition to adjusting to living with her mother again, Jane also had to adjust to life in a new country.

Moving to the United States was a huge culture shock for Jane, whose life in Brazil had been very “isolated,” she said.

In Brazil, they never ate out. Her grandmother would cook every meal at home, and sew their clothes. She spent a lot of time outside, and barely watched any T.V.

After moving to the United States, Jane started spending more time indoors, watching T.V. “There wasn’t really much else to do,” she said. “I remember I missed being outside.”

Additionally, it took Jane some time to get used to the food.

For one, Jane hated the orange juice.

“I remember the first time I drank the orange juice. I was like, ‘This isn’t orange juice. I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t orange juice,’” she said.

Back in Brazil, she had squeezed fresh oranges to make her own juice. The American orange juice, bought in a grocery store, “had such a metallically taste,” she said.

“I was like, ‘Stay away from the orange juice. It’s not good,’” she said.

Since Brazilian food is usually very salty, American food seemed sweet in comparison.

“I gained a lot of weight as a kid,” she said. “When I moved here, the first year or two, I gained a lot of weight, until I started puberty and it all evened itself out.”

While in Brazil, Jane had been in the middle of third grade. The Brazilian school year starts in January, and runs parallel to the calendar. So when Jane immigrated to the U.S. in July, she was bumped up to fourth grade.

Since Jane didn’t know English, she was placed in ESL classes. However, even in a class full of Portuguese speakers, Jane felt isolated.

Her teachers were Portuguese, not Brazilian, and according to Jane, it seemed as if they favored the Portuguese students over those from Brazil.

“There was just this undertone, where I felt like I didn’t really belong,” she said. “I felt a little discrimination. It felt like the Portuguese kids got a little bit better treatment. It wasn’t anything that scarred me for life or anything, but it was just something that I noticed.”

Jane said one of her primary methods for learning English was to use words with which she was unfamiliar. One day, as the class was reading a story together, the teacher asked Jane and her peers to use a word to describe the story.

“I had heard this word somewhere and I had no idea what it meant,” said Jane. “So I said, ‘Horny.’

“And the teacher said, ‘’Do you mean corny?’ And I said, ‘No, I mean horny.’ And she said, ‘No, you don’t.’”

Her teachers never explained the word further to Jane, who was left confused.

“It took a little while until I figured out why that wasn’t the appropriate word,” she said.

Additionally, Jane loved to read. Her Language Arts teacher had a bookshelf full of American classics that any student could take home to read.

If she didn’t understand a word, she would just ask her teachers.

Once, while reading Seventeen Magazine, Jane came upon an article about a young woman who had been raped. However, she didn’t understand the word “rape.”

She took the magazine to school with her, and asked her teacher what the word meant.

“It’s a bad thing a boy does to a girl,” her teacher told her.

“I was like, ‘I don’t understand what that means.’ And she was like, ‘OK, well, we’re not going to discuss it,’” said Jane. “So I assumed it must have been a bad word. She wouldn’t tell me what the word meant and when I asked my mom, she didn’t know what it meant. So I just kind of left it at that.”

As her English improved, she was transferred out of ESL classes and integrated into English-speaking courses. By sixth grade, she was enrolled in all English-speaking classes.

While she could now speak the language, Jane still had a hard time fitting in at school.

“It was a little difficult at times to make friends because I was very shy and I didn’t feel like I really fit in a whole lot,” she said.

She added, “I always felt kind of alien. I didn’t feel like I really fit in with the kids who were in my class, and I didn’t really fit in with the Brazilian kids, either.”

According to Jane, her mother wanted her children to be as American as possible. While many of her Brazilian neighbors shopped at a local Brazilian store and had Brazilian products in their home, her mother refused to do the same.

“She tried to get us to think, ‘Now we live in America. We have to do things the American way,’” she said. “I didn’t feel like I really fit in either way. I didn’t fit in with my Brazilian friends. I didn’t fit in with my American friends.”

At the time, her mother was still working in a factory in Holliston. One day, she received word there was going to be an immigration raid at the factory, and she stayed home. However, Jane’s aunt wasn’t so lucky – she was arrested on the job, and deported back to Brazil.

Frightened by the raid, Jane’s mother started her own business cleaning houses, which she still runs to this day.

Jane and her brother would often stay home alone for a few hours after school let out, since their mother was working and unable to afford a babysitter.

“My mom had very strict rules about what we could and couldn’t do. We couldn’t have people over. We couldn’t make a lot of noise,” she said. “She would say, ‘This is a different country than Brazil. If they find out you kids are home alone, they’re going to come take you away.’ So my brother and I would make sure to be very quiet.”

When she was in high school, Jane and her family moved to Framingham, which had a much larger Brazilian population.

She still struggled to fit in with both her American and Brazilian peers, and found herself really disliking school.

So, during her senior year, Jane decided to undertake a work-study, which would allow her to work full time – while taking four classes – and receive school credit.

Jane began to grow more anxious about her future, as her peers and classmates started to talk about college.

“I didn’t know how to navigate higher education,” she said. “It was senior year and people are talking about which colleges they’re applying to, PSATS, SATS. I never took any of them because I was like, ‘What’s the point? I can’t get into college. I can’t pay for college. Why should I even try? It’s not going to work for me.’”

Soon after graduating high school, Jane met her future husband. Her church’s youth group had organized an event with the Marlborough denomination so their members could mingle.

He had just moved to the United States – illegally – and was two years younger.

At first, they didn’t really hit it off.

“We didn’t really talk or anything,” said Jane. “Sometimes, we would see each other at different church events and just say hi.”

Two years went by before the two actually struck up a conversation, a moment that Jane credits to music.

The church was holding a talent show, and Jane and her best friend had decided to enter. Jane and her friend performed a DC Talk song, with Jane on the oboe and her friend on the guitar. They won first place.

“After that, we started talking a little bit more,” she said. “He was really into music. He plays guitar. I think maybe that’s where we found our common ground.”

Jane and her now-husband casually hung out for about a month, until Jane demanded to know their status.

“I was like, ‘Are you going to ask me to be your girlfriend or not?’ And he was like, “Yes!”’ she said.  “And then we started dating for real.”

After three years, the two got engaged, and they were married in 2008.

A few days before their fourth anniversary, Jane gave birth to their first child – a daughter.

“It was funny because her due date was going to be my anniversary, but she was breached so I had to have a C-section. She was born on Monday of that week,” said Jane. “But I felt like it was almost like a wedding anniversary gift.” 

Jane credits not only her marriage to Jesus, but all of her accomplishments.

“I am here today talking to you as a relatively well-adjusted graduate student because Jesus is in my life,” she said.

While she had grown up attending church, she had felt “angry” at God for her situation.

However, she had a change of heart one night while driving home from work on Route 9.

A car had crashed into a telephone pole, and a white sheet was being draped over a body as Jane drove past.

“I thought, ‘What if my life just ended right now?’” she said.

After that night, Jane made a decision to start attending church regularly again.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, Jesus changed my life,” she said.

After graduating in 2001, Jane started working at a Framingham jewelry store, six days a week from open to close.

Her employer was “the worst boss” Jane had ever had, and her boss’ husband would often steal Jane’s commission.

After being sent home from work one day, and reprimanded for coming in late another, Jane decided to step back and evaluate her situation.

“I drove to Quinsigamond Community College and I sat in their parking lot and prayed. I said, ‘Lord, if this is what you want me to do, then I’m going to go in there and I’m going to apply. If everything goes well, then I’ll do this,’” she said.

Jane took the placement tests, and showed the school her 1099 tax forms. The college administrators allowed her to take night classes at the same rate as an in-state citizen.

Later that week, Jane called her boss and quit her job.

“It was nerve-wracking. I had signed up for school. It was spring, so I had the summer to find a job and then school started in the fall,” said Jane. “But it worked out. I think every obstacle I had after that, God would make a way for me.”

Life as an undocumented college student

Jane is the first woman in her family to graduate from college, and the first person in her immediate family to obtain an advanced degree.

However, because she is undocumented, she cannot receive financial aid, and she must pay for school herself.

She started attending Quinsigamond full-time, and worked 40 hours a week to pay for it.

Because Quinsagamond had a consortium with UMass Amherst, she was able to take all of her general education classes at the community college, before attending UMass.

She continued working long hours while she finished her remaining major courses at UMass online. After, she was accepted into a UMass doctoral program in 2010.

“Part of the reason I chose to go to college was because I thought that would be something no one could ever take away,” said Jane. “That would be mine. I wouldn’t lose that.”

However, in 2012, she gave birth to her daughter and was unable to work full-time, and therefore, was unable to pay for tuition. For every semester she deferred, the university charged her a “hefty fee.”

When her daughter was old enough to be enrolled in a daycare, Jane used a tax return to pay all of her deferment fees and start attending classes again.

But even one class was too expensive, and she found herself at a “crossroads.”

Her coworker, who had graduated from Framingham State, suggested she look into the more affordable graduate programs at the University.

She interviewed with the director of the program, and sent her a résumé and other necessary documents. Within a few days, Jane received word she had been accepted.

“I felt that that was confirmation that I was headed in the right direction,” she said.

Now, Jane works 24 hours a week at her regular job, 15 hours a week as a graduate assistant and takes one class per semester.

“It’s challenging,” she said. “A lot of times, I wish I had more free time to be with my daughter. But at the same time, I feel really blessed because even though I don’t have the same resources as other people do, I don’t have to work a full-time job plus a part-time job to make ends meet.”

She added, “I guess I hope that all of the sacrifice I go through now will give her a better chance than I had.”

DACA’s impact

In 2012, just a few weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Jane was home on maternity leave, sitting on the couch watching the news on mute and chatting with her mother on the phone.

Then, a new headline popped up on the screen – President Barack Obama had just announced DACA.

“I was like, ‘Mom. Mom. Mom. I have to call you back. I just saw something. I need to check what I’m seeing,’” said Jane.

She hung up the phone and looked up DACA online.

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening!’” she said.

Jane called a lawyer right away, made an appointment and read whatever she could find about DACA.

A month later, instructions were given out about how to apply, and Jane started gathering all the evidence she could to meet the requirements. The day Immigration started accepting applications, she was ready to go.

However, Jane had a choice to make. Her job had offered to sponsor her and her husband for a green card.

Jane didn’t fit into any real category that is required for the application, though, and she was nervous about applying.

“Basically, what I would be doing is turning myself over to Immigration and hoping they would be lenient and not deport me,” she said.

Jane decided to go forward with DACA.

“We were both waiting for this,” she said. “Then in 2012, I get DACA and he gets nothing.”

The application cost Jane approximately $3,000.

The night her application was approved, Obama was re-elected.

“I was on the couch watching the news. I was like, ‘Let me just check now,’ because I had been checking it frequently,” she said. “When I logged on, it was like, ‘We have approved your application,’ and I was like, ‘Ahhhhhh!’”

Jane said she hadn’t been nervous about what would happen to the DACA program if Obama hadn’t won the 2012 election.

“I had lived for so long without anything,” she said. “I didn’t have anything to lose.”

Before DACA, Jane worked as a contractor, and paid her taxes with a 1099 form. She purchased health insurance every year at a very expensive rate, and she was not able to obtain a driver’s license.

Now, Jane is able to drive and have a job with benefits.

While DACA provided Jane with the basic resources to survive in the United States, it didn’t provide her with any stability.

When her DACA expired last September, Jane’s whole view of the program changed.

“When DACA came around, I was so excited and I was so happy, and I remember people saying, ‘It’s not enough,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t care. I will take it however I can get it. I’m not going to complain,’” she said. “’As long as I can work and have a family, then I don’t really need other stuff.’”

Jane said her DACA expiring was “eye-opening, in a way. I think I had clung to this false sense of security I had from DACA.”

The experience was “really nerve-wracking,” she said. “I didn’t know how long I wouldn’t be able to work for, or how long I wouldn’t have any income and if at some point, if they approved my application and I was able to go back to work, if daycare would still have a spot for her. So there were all of these things that were making me nervous.”

When Jane found out her DACA had expired and she was unable to work, her boss told her she would hold her position for two months and extend her health benefits for one month.

“To me, that was a really nice thing because she didn’t have to do that,” she said. “My daughter has a lot of allergies – life-threatening allergies. So, for me, not having health insurance is a really big deal.”

During those two weeks, Jane tried to stay as busy as possible.

“I lived in sort of suspended animation. It was really odd,” she said. “I cleaned my house from top to bottom. I emptied every closet. I kept myself as busy as I possibly could. Because if I stopped, for even a minute, this overwhelming sense of impending doom would take over me.”

She wrote to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, hoping she would be able to help her in some way.

She received an email back stating the Senator’s staff had sent an inquiry in about her case. A week later, she received her approval email.

“I don’t know if it was just a coincidence – I’m not sure,” said Jane. “But I’ll take it.”

Jane said before her DACA had expired, she hadn’t thought about the program’s flaws.

“I hadn’t really thought about it until that morning when I woke up and I was supposed to go to work and I could not go to work. It felt like I had tried to kind of trick myself into believing that this would be enough – that this would solve all my problems,” she said. “I kind of realized how fragile it really is.”

What now?

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Jane again found herself sitting on her couch, waiting to see who would be the next United States president.

But this time, the election didn’t go quite as she had hoped.

“At one point, Hillary was winning and I was like, ‘Yay! Everything is going to be all right.’ And then, everything just started to turn,” she said.

While Trump’s presidency does worry Jane, she is not as concerned as one might think.

“I’ve lived here for a majority of my life without DACA,” she said. “And God still opened all these doors for me. My hope, my trust is in the Lord. I think that’s why maybe I don’t freak out as much.

“If I felt like my future was in Trump’s hands, then yeah, I would be really freaking out,” she added.

Jane is grateful for all the opportunities she and her family have in the United States.

“I ran around barefoot on a dirt road as a kid. I had nothing growing up,” she said. “And then today, my daughter can go to ballet. She can do all of these things I never got the chance to do. I dream about the opportunities that she has – all the things she could do and she could be.”

Despite her troubles, Jane still views herself as privileged to be able to work and live in America.

“I’m really grateful to be here. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to my community. I volunteer. I’m involved in my church. I try to reach out, because I feel like I’ve been given so much. I’m so privileged. I’m really glad to be here. I don’t have any idea what it would be like if I had to go back.”

Jane and her husband have discussed what would happen if either of them were to be deported, and they both agree the best course of action would be to move their whole family back to Brazil, despite the fact they would have to start over in a country they barely know.

“I think our biggest fear is having our family broken up. If they deport us, what happens to my daughter? I’m assuming they’re not going to be like, ‘She stays and you have to go,’” said Jane. “I’m glad she’s an American citizen, because if we do leave, she can at least have the opportunity to go to college or do something here.”

Jane herself feels more American than Brazilian.

“I do consider myself an American,” she said. “My husband jokes, ‘You’re American. You’re not Brazilian.’”

She added, “I do like certain aspects of Brazilian culture. I listen to Brazilian music and I eat Brazilian food. But, I feel like my heart is here.”

Jane hasn’t seen her family in Brazil in over 25 years. 

“It would be like going back to strangers. I speak Portuguese, but I would have to relearn the language in a way. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to get a professional position. We don’t have any assets there,” she said. “We would be starting from scratch.”

For immigrants like Jane, with families and a history in the United States, going back to their native countries isn’t an option. But building a future here is nearly impossible.

“I want to be here. I want to contribute to this country. My life is here. My roots are here. My daughter was born here. I want to be here,” she said. “But ultimately, it’s in the Lord’s hands.”

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