Had she not come to America, Monica Alcaraz would have faced a life of extreme poverty in Guanajuato, Mexico. The youngest of 16 children, she often didn’t have enough to eat. So when her older sister married a U.S. citizen and moved to Texas in 1986, Alcaraz—then four years old and undocumented—went with her.
At 11, Alcaraz began cleaning banks with her sister. Then, when her sister opened a restaurant in Corpus Christi, Alcaraz became a waitress. By high school, she was pulling double shifts, going in at 5 a.m. and then returning after classes let out. In 1999, less than a year before graduation, she dropped out. “Maybe I’m always going to be a waitress,’” Alcaraz thought. “I was scared to do more in the United States.”
But in 2012, everything changed. While studying for her GED, Alcaraz heard about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Suddenly, she could live and work legally in the United States. “I always said if I had my papers I could get a better job,” she says. “So thank god for DACA.”
Alcaraz dreams of becoming an American citizen. Back in 2001, an older brother sponsored her for a green card. But Alcaraz doesn’t know if the paperwork will go through before her DACA protections expire. “The next step is buying a house,” she says. “But I have to wait because I told my kids, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen right now.’ I’m worried about DACA but I still always try to find a way, any kind of way, to be good here in the United States.”