Jacqueline Mayorga was born in Hidalgo, Mexico, to poor but hardworking parents. Her mother was a maid in Mexico City, and her father was a migrant farmworker in the United States who sent money home to the family. When Mayorga was 3 years old, her parents decided to reunite the family, and moved her to South Carolina. Thanks to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offers such young people a reprieve from deportation, Mayorga, now 24, was able to graduate from college and get a job as a case manager for Lutheran Services Carolinas, a nonprofit that helps vulnerable communities.
I’ve gone to school here, and grown up here, and done everything here. In everything I do, I feel American.
Mayorga has worked hard to overcome the obstacles presented by her status. Although her undocumented status barred her from attending a public university in South Carolina, she found a way to pay for a private university and earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and biology from Columbia College. Her drive is hardly atypical. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and 81.4 percent have graduated from high school and taken a college course.
Yet Mayorga could have contributed far more to South Carolina had her immigration status not stood in the way. She wants to be a physician’s assistant and to work for a pediatrician, but the state does not allow DACA recipients to receive a license to practice in many fields. The restriction represents a huge loss to South Carolinians, who already suffer from a shortage of healthcare providers across the state. In 2014, there were eight open healthcare jobs in South Carolina for every one unemployed healthcare worker.
Unable to pursue medicine, Mayorga went into social work. She currently cares for unaccompanied undocumented children, helping them reunite with family while they wait for their immigration hearing. The children, who have often fled gang violence and domestic abuse, have heartbreaking stories. “My parents came here looking for better opportunities, and that’s the same reason these kids are here,” Mayorga says.
Obtaining DACA soon after the program launched in 2012 allowed Mayorga to get a driver’s license, work legally after graduating from college, and even take a brief trip back to Mexico to visit her dying grandfather. That trip only confirmed Mayorga’s connection to America. “I’ve gone to school here, and grown up here, and done everything here,” she says. “In everything I do, I feel American.”
She now hopes to continue her education in order to become either a physician’s assistant or a licensed social worker, so she can contribute even more to her adopted country. But she won’t be able to do so unless lawmakers act; When Mayorga’s current DACA status expires, she will be subject to deportation, along with as many as 1.8 million other young people like her who could otherwise become eligible for DACA status.
Mayorga says that deporting her will not bring any benefit to America, but it will destroy the life she has worked to build. And it will hurt the people she’s trying to help in South Carolina. “It would be really traumatic to me,” Mayorga says. “I wouldn’t be allowed to work here and help these kids. . . . I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”