Dar­ing to dream

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents -

Rosa Martinez did not have much choice about com­ing to the United States. She is glad, now, that she is here, but at only five years old, she did not have a say in the mat­ter.

Her mother and fa­ther had al­ready crossed the bor­der il­le­gally. For three days, they walked in the desert, in­ter­mit­tently trav­el­ing in cars, to meet the next coy­ote, as smug­glers are called, fi­nally ar­riv­ing in Texas in 2000. As fate would have it, they ended up find­ing work in Hot Springs. (The city where they lived in Mex­ico is named Aguas Calientes, which, in English, means “warm wa­ters.”)

Martinez ar­rived with her brother about a year later. Her par­ents ar­ranged for them to be smug­gled across the bor­der in a car and even­tu­ally re­united with them in Arkansas. As the ve­hi­cle passed through an im­mi­gra­tion check­point, the sib­lings pre­tended to sleep. The car was waved through. They had made it to Amer­ica. “It was ter­ri­fy­ing when we crossed over,” Martinez said. “When we started school, it got even more scary. We didn’t know the lan­guage. In Mex­ico, we were friends with the whole neigh­bor­hood, but here we did not go out much. We could not re­ally be out. I don’t know if that had to do with the fact that we were im­mi­grants.”

“It was very, very scary,” she said. “I re­mem­ber cry­ing ev­ery night be­cause of that.”

Rosa Martinez is not this woman’s real name. The edi­to­rial team of HER Mag­a­zine de­cided that for her pro­tec­tion, it was best not to re­veal her iden­tity or to show her face, be­cause in the U.S. to­day, the chance that she might even­tu­ally be de­ported back to Mex­ico is a very real threat.

Martinez is, for now, here legally. She is what is known as a “Dreamer.” Though the Dream Act, which is pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would al­low mi­nors who en­ter the coun­try il­le­gally to have a path to cit­i­zen­ship, has re­peat­edly failed to pass in Congress, the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Arrivals, or DACA, be­came law dur­ing the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

DACA al­lows mi­nors who were younger than 31 on June 15, 2012, to avoid de­por­ta­tion and ob­tain re­new­able work per­mits for a pe­riod of two years. They must have ar­rived in the U.S. be­fore turn­ing 16 and lived here con­tin­u­ously since 2007.

Be­fore DACA came into law, Martinez had all but given up hope. Her friends in high school were get­ting driver’s li­censes, talk­ing about col­lege, op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture. Be­cause she was il­le­gal, she could not en­vi­sion any fu­ture that was bright. So, she dropped out of school, trav­eled and tried her best to live day-by-day, al­ways know­ing that at any mo­ment, her life could be turned up­side down if she were de­ported.

“You kind of have to keep liv­ing,” she said. “But you live with this kind of fear. You can­not get a good job. You can­not go to school. You can’t re­ally do any­thing. It hit me a lit­tle bit more when I got older, like, I am not sup­posed to be here.”

When the new im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy came into ef­fect, her life changed dra­mat­i­cally. Martinez ob­tained her DACA card and a so­cial se­cu­rity num­ber. She com­pleted her GED. Most re­cently, she be­came an emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian, or EMT, and is now en­rolled in nurs­ing school. She has paid for all of her ed­u­ca­tion out of her own pocket.

“[DACA] com­pletely changed my life,” she said. “I could ac­tu­ally do some­thing, so I went back to col­lege. It was crazy for me to be able to go and ap­ply for it, and them let­ting me ap­ply. It was like, ‘This is me, and I don’t have to hide any­more.’” But Martinez is once again wor­ried. The Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peat­edly vowed to dis­man­tle DACA,

but, so far, has failed to do so. If this were to hap­pen, hun­dreds of thou­sands of young im­mi­grants, like Martinez, would be forced to leave.

“I have thought about what would hap­pen when Trump came into of­fice,” Martinez said. “Like, if they get rid of it [DACA], I won’t want to go back to hid­ing in the shad­ows, to work­ing a bad job and not hav­ing any op­por­tu­ni­ties for my­self.”

“I was very sad,” she said. “I cried.”

Martinez has not re­turned to Mex­ico since leav­ing now al­most two decades ago. But the mem­o­ries of the poverty she ex­pe­ri­enced there are still very real. Her fa­ther and mother barely scraped by.

Her mother had a small store, she said. Her fa­ther was a welder.

Martinez said the main rea­son why her par­ents wanted to come to the U.S. was be­cause they wanted their chil­dren to have bet­ter lives.

“Peo­ple don’t walk the desert be­cause they are com­fort­able at home,” she said. “They can’t feed their chil­dren, their kids are not get­ting any­where. They wanted us to have more, even if they did not.

That is what drives them. You want your chil­dren to suc­ceed even if it means you are suffering, to

Peo­ple don’t walk the desert be­cause they are com­fort­able at home ... They can’t feed their chil­dren, their kids are not get­ting any­where. They wanted us to have more, even if they did not. That is what drives them. You want your chil­dren to suc­ceed even if it means you are suffering, to break the cy­cle you are sur­rounded by.

break the cy­cle you are sur­rounded by.”

She said that her fa­ther was not able to see his mother when she died. For Martinez’s mom, the sit­u­a­tion was the same. Martinez only saw her grand­par­ents a hand­ful of times.

“They missed out on so much,” she said. “All be­cause they wanted us to get an ed­u­ca­tion that we could not get in Mex­ico.”

While she says she misses the cul­ture of her coun­try, Martinez does not want to go back. The poverty is still stark. The vi­o­lence too bad.

“In Mex­ico, you work twice as hard as you do here and get paid a third of what you make here,” she said. “There is a lot of the cul­ture that I miss, a lot of things in Mex­ico, the life­style and ev­ery­thing that I do miss.”

Martinez says she wants to be a nurse be­cause she en­joys help­ing peo­ple.

She says she finds it hard to un­der­stand why some peo­ple do not want her in the U.S.

“We are not com­pet­ing against any­one,” she said. “I just don’t un­der­stand. We are try­ing to study. We are try­ing to be good ci­ti­zens. Why would you not want that in your com­mu­nity? Why does the color of my skin or the fact that I was not born here, why should that pre­vent you from wel­com­ing me and mak­ing your com­mu­nity bet­ter?”

“We are try­ing to make this com­mu­nity bet­ter be­cause this is our home,” she said. “This is my home. This is my life.”

Ac­cord­ing to a 2017 re­port from the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, a Wash­ing­ton D.C.-based pol­icy in­sti­tute, end­ing DACA would re­sult in a loss of about $460 bil­lion from the na­tional GDP over the next decade. The econ­omy would lose roughly 685,000 work­ers, the re­port said.

Ten states, in­clud­ing Arkansas, are de­mand­ing the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion abol­ish DACA.

For now, Martinez says all she can do is fo­cus on do­ing her best in nurs­ing school. If she has to leave at some point, at least she will have a de­gree and might be able to find a job in Mex­ico or else­where. Her DACA sta­tus is up for re­newal in 2019, and she is acutely aware that a lot can hap­pen be­tween now and then.

But this is a re­al­ity she con­stantly tries to for­get.

“It be­comes over­whelm­ing if you think about it,” she said, fight­ing back tears. “I am just try­ing to do the best I can in school and pray to God and let him do his thing.”

Pho­tos of Martinez as a child and of her grand­par­ents in Mex­ico.

Martinez and her mother em­brace out­side their home in Hot Springs.

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