Nineteen-year-old Lenda Vazquez works six to seven days a week at her father’s landscaping business in Gilbert, South Carolina. “I’m pretty much his right-hand man,” she says. Vazquez is an undocumented immigrant, but her protections under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) have allowed her to obtain a driver’s license and work legally. Now she drives her father to job sites and dreams of starting her own business. “There are so many things I feel like I could do,” she says.
This wasn’t always the case, however. Vazquez was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and as a baby her family shared a single room and struggled to buy food and diapers. Her father, who worked as a stonemason, decided to seek work in the United States and, after finding work at a steel foundry and in landscaping, his wife and daughter joined him. Vazquez was 2 1/2 years old.
Although Vazquez grew up in the United States, she soon realized she could not aspire to the same things as her peers. She wanted to train to become a nurse when she graduated from high school, something that would be a boon to South Carolina, which expects to face a critical nursing shortage by 2025. But then she learned that the state does not issue nursing licenses to undocumented immigrants, even those who are protected under DACA, so she put her ambitions on hold. “Maybe going to school isn’t in my grasp right now, but I know if I keep pushing on, I’ll get there eventually,” she says.
There are so many things I feel like I could do.
Instead, Vazquez found work in a pharmacy, where her bilingual skills proved useful, and, when she got her driver’s license, left to help her father. “It was really exciting and exhilarating,” she says. “It was like a new world had opened up.”
Vazquez says that now she is filled with optimism about the future. Working with her father has given her a sense of what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and she dreams of starting her own landscaping company one day — perhaps one that employs women, since few females work in the industry. She is like many DACA-eligible young people, who are more likely to start their own businesses than are their U.S.-born counterparts. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and, of those, 4.5 percent are entrepreneurs with a combined annual business income of $659 million, a significant boost to local economies across the country. “I know plenty of people in our community who’ve started their own companies, including my dad,” she says. “I’d love to have my own company one day.”
Still, Vazquez knows that her dreams of an education and a company of her own may not be possible. The White House has announced it will end DACA in March 2018 unless Congress passes a legislative fix. If Congress does not act, Vazquez will lose her employment authorization and be subject to deportation. “I’m on edge, biting my nails, and feeling very anxious about what’s going to happen this year,” she says. The worst thing, she adds, is that she has come so close to achieving her dreams, and now could see that life snatched away. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s like someone opened a door, let me stick my head through, and now is shoving my head back out and locking the door in my face.”