Daring to dream
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.