Rosibel Granada is proud of what her three sons—ages 19, 22, and 28—have been able to accomplish since they came to the United States 13 years ago from El Salvador. The eldest works in real estate; her middle child is a chef; and the youngest is in community college, studying geology. And yet, until 2012, they were undocumented. Only after President Obama implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which shields certain childhood arrivals from deportation—could they finally come out of the shadows.
Obtaining DACA, which also provides recipients with work authorization, was a godsend, Granada says. But lack of permanent residency has held the boys back. Her youngest son wants to study at SUNY Stony Brook, one of New York’s best public universities. But he doesn’t qualify for financial aid, so he had to enroll at a local community college. Her middle child had aspirations to be a physical therapist and qualified for a scholarship, but he was ultimately unable to claim it because he was not a permanent resident.
Her sons haven’t been able to see their father in El Salvador for more than a decade.
Granada’s lack of citizenship has held her back, too. She arrived here in 2000. The following year, two successive earthquakes killed more than 1,000 people in her native El Salvador, preventing Grenada from returning home. She obtained Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is reserved for immigrants residing in the United States when a natural or humanitarian disaster befalls their home country. But because she’s not a permanent legal resident, she can’t take out a loan to fund her own college career. And so, Grenada is stuck working as a customer service representative at a health insurance company when she longs to become a manager. If she could pay out of pocket, she would. But all of her savings have gone toward her sons’ education.
TPS also doesn’t confer travel privileges, so her sons haven’t been able to see their father in El Salvador for more than a decade. When her mother died, Granada couldn’t attend the funeral.
She wonders what her long-term prospects will be if she is never able to become a permanent resident and citizen. Will she be able to draw Social Security after paying taxes into the system for years? Granada knows she is in a better position that those who are undocumented. “You hear stories about how they are taken advantage of,” she says. “Sometimes they aren’t paid. Women don’t want to report incidents of domestic violence. They don’t want to go to the police because of fear.”
“They are courageous, hardworking people,” Granada says. “But they can’t move forward. The situation doesn’t let them.” In her case, she feels she has only a toehold on the American Dream. The opportunity to become a citizen would help her realize it.