When Acacia Mendoza was a baby, her parents, who had been laid off from their finance industry jobs in Guadalajara, Mexico, brought her and her twin sister to the United States, where her uncle worked as a tax preparer in Dallas. Her mother went to work for her uncle’s firm, and her father started his own moving company. Each winter, the family would visit family in Mexico and return to Texas using tourist visas.
But when Mendoza was 10 years old, a U.S. border agent refused to grant the family re-entry. “He didn’t take our tourist visas away, but he gave us a warning,” Mendoza says. It was the first time she realized they had been living as undocumented immigrants.
“After a couple months, we returned to Texas,” she says. “I have never gone back to Mexico after that experience.”
When she was in the eighth grade, Mendoza joined LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, which showed her that college was an attainable goal, despite her immigration status, and gave her a scholarship. “I was the first person to go to college in my household,” she says. Mendoza wanted to become a nurse, a position that would have allowed her to help fill a growing need for healthcare professionals in the United States, and she entered the Texas Women’s University nursing program. She soon realized, however, that, as an undocumented immigrant, she would be unable to get a nursing license. She studied political science instead.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), however, changed her outlook. The 2012 policy authorizes qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to temporarily live and work in the country.
It’s time for the U.S. to show appreciation for those who have done so much for this country.
“DACA has made me confident about my education,” she says. “At the beginning I was like, Oh, what am I even doing? I’m spending all this money and working so hard and I can’t even use this degree at the end. But DACA gave me that confidence that there were opportunities open to me, way more than I had before.”
Today Mendoza lives in Colorado, where she works as an optician’s assistant and plans to earn a paralegal certificate. She is one of the 1.3 million young people currently eligible for DACA, although that number is expected to grow to 1.8 million as more youth age into the program and as more people complete their high school education. And she is one of the many whose jobs are at risk if DACA is rescinded, as the Trump Administration has begun to do. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and combined these Dreamers pay $3 billion in taxes every year and almost $2.5 billion into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans.
“Immigration reform matters because the majority of immigrants are really hardworking,” Mendoza says. “It’s time for the U.S. to show appreciation for those who have done so much for this country.”