At the closing ceremony for the 2015 summer class of interns at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), 21-year-old Daniela Martinez delivered the farewell address. During her speech, the young leader addressed an audience that included Representatives Linda T. Sánchez, Henry Cuellar, Jim Costa, Ruben Gallego, Raúl Grijalva, Ben Ray Lújan, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lucille Roybal-Allard. Martinez’s American dream is public service, and although she’s off to an auspicious start, her immigration status puts her professional ambitions at risk. The reason: unlike her younger sister, who was born in California, Martinez was born in Mexico. “My work permit expires in a year so I don’t know if I’ll be able to renew it,” she says. And yet working for the federal government is Martinez’s dream—if only she can become a citizen. “I guess it all depends on this coming election year,” she says.
Martinez’s family immigrated to the United States in 2001, settling in Palm Springs, California. When they arrived, the Martinezs held all of the required visas and work permits. Both Martinez’s mother and father had earned college degrees in Mexico, but couldn’t continue in their professions. Martinez’s mom, who had studied child development and cosmetology and is a licensed private accountant auditor in Mexico, wasn’t able to take the tests required to become licensed, and instead took jobs cleaning houses. Her dad, a trained accountant, works in maintenance at a hotel.
“It’s been a struggle, but thank God we’ve been able to live well, and send me off to college, but this isn’t what [my parents] studied; it’s not their career choice,” Martinez says. “I know that if they had the ability, my parents have always had the dream of opening a business. They certainly have the education for it. It’s definitely affected our economic standing, in that sense.”
It’s hard to have to live in a state of uncertainty when you want to help yourself, your community, and your family prosper, and you know that you can do it if given the opportunity.
After graduating from Palm Desert High School in 2012, a lack of a pathway to legal residency in the United States threatened Martinez’s ability to attend college. She knew she wanted to earn her degree, but the options were limited. For a time, her family even considered desperate measures like having the teen, then 16, adopted by an American family. “I knew I was going to pursue my education,” Martinez said. “It was something my family had always instilled in us. It was our American dream: for myself and my little sister to get an education.” On June 15, 2012, President Obama’s executive action on immigration and the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program went into effect, and granted Martinez, who had come to the United States as a child, temporary legal status. DACA passed as Martinez finished high school. She attended the Latin American Bible Institute in La Puente, CA, where she earned an Associates degree in Biblical studies, and went on to enroll in Florida’s Southeastern University.
“It was because of the deferred action that I was even able to fly out to Florida and pursue my education there,” she says. She graduated in May 2016, majoring in organizational leadership and minoring in pre-law, while earning an additional associate’s degree in biblical studies. Now, Martinez’s sights are set on a return to Washington, D.C, where she aspires to work in government or the non-profit sector and earn a Master’s degree. Unlike her mother and father, whose professional aspirations were sidelined, Martinez is determined to achieve her career goal: working in public service, preferably for the federal government. She’s already had several internships, including for her local Congressman Raul Ruiz’s offices in both California and Washington D.C. She’s also completed a fellowship with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition from Rep. Raul Ruiz, and earned an award of achievement from Rep. Linda Sanchez.
Immigration policy needs to better reflect common sense, Martinez believes, and it’s overdue. Because enforcement priorities don’t largely consider those individuals who have grown up in the United States, millions are forced to remain silent, living in fear. “We obviously need a new type of requirement, a process to benefit those that are already here,” she says. “Historically speaking, the second and third generation of immigrants are the ones that bring forth economic prosperity to their family and to their communities. It’s hard to have to live in a state of uncertainty when you want to help yourself, your community, and your family prosper, and you know that you can do it if given the opportunity.”