Jose does not remember much about coming to the U.S. when he was a small child.

All he remembers is getting on a plane and taking off. He’s not sure at what point in his family’s journey, crossing the border illegally, that was.

Jose asked his real name not be used for this article, because he doesn’t tell everyone he is undocumented due to the uncertainty of his legal status in the U.S. The Herald-News honored that request. He, a sibling and his mother, Maria, flew from Guadalaraja, Mexico, to the border town of Nogales, where they crossed, then made their way to Phoenix, and flew to Chicago. This was about a year before 9/11.

Maria said her decision to leave Mexico was not easy. Her husband was getting in trouble and not supporting her and their kids. Jose also was frequently sick, but affordable medical treatment was scarce. They decided to settle in Joliet because her mother and brothers already had moved to the city. She said it was difficult at first.

She cried almost every day when she first arrived. Whether it was learning English or missing home, Maria found adjustment difficult. Even other Latinos who were here legally looked down on her.

“It was not easy to say, ‘Yes, I want to go to the United States,’ ” she said “No. It’s so hard because you are nobody here.”

Still, they did find life a little easier in Joliet because they were not the only undocumented immigrants settling in the area at the time. So for Jose, being undocumented was not much of a problem growing up and going to school, sometimes with other undocumented children.

“I was aware of it,” he said. “I just didn’t really see it as an obstacle. Not until I was older.”

As he grew, he realized he couldn’t do certain things, such as travel outside of the country or get a job like a lot of teenagers. But the timing worked out because, right about when Jose was old enough to think about his future past high school, President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

The policy would allow certain undocumented immigrants to obtain a renewable two-year work permit and deferred action from deportation.

“People would tell me, ‘Well, you’re Mexican,’ ” Jose said. “Yeah, I’m Mexican, but I’m American. I was raised here. The only country I know is the United States.”

Jose’s legal status because of DACA now is uncertain under the Trump administration. In June, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was not going to terminate DACA but would no longer pursue establishing another Obama-era policy known as DAPA, for undocumented parents with U.S. citizen children.

But the administration also has been noncommittal in actually defending DACA status, which about 750,000 young people in the U.S. have, in court.

Jose already was in the process of renewing his work permit this year, as no actual changes to the policy officially have been made, but that could change any day.

He worries that because the federal government already has his information, if it decided to strip him of his deferred action status, he’d be an easy target for deportation, even though the administration has said DACA recipients are not the priority for deportation.

Because of the program, he’s been able to work and legally earn money as a graphic designer since he decided not to go to college. But Jose had to meet certain requirements to qualify for the program.

Recipients had to be younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012; they had to come to the U.S. before their 16th birthday; live continuously in the country from June 15, 2007, until the present; be studying for or graduated from high school or obtained a GED or have been honorably discharged from the military; and have no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions on their record. They also have to pay a fee.

Jose was able to go through the process this time around through the immigration team at Spanish Community Center in Joliet, which helps DACA recipients.

Even with the good fortune of being able to benefit from the policy, Jose said he is aware of the rhetoric about immigrants amid the nation’s political climate.

He thought what President Donald Trump said on the campaign trail about mass deportations was “far-fetched” and wouldn’t actually happen to 11 million undocumented immigrants nationwide.

“What they were saying wasn’t realistic,” he said.

But he also knows people already were living in fear of deportation under the Obama administration, which deported more than 2 million people.

“What Obama was doing was already bad because they were deporting so many people,” Jose said.

It forces him to be cautious.
Most people he interacts with don’t know about his status, and although most who do know are accepting, there always are detractors.

Jose has had multiple debates about immigration with a friend who is critical of illegal immigration and a supporter of Trump and his policies. They once were arguing about the proposed border wall, Jose arguing that Mexico would not pay for it, but his friend firmly saying they would.

“I don’t think he understands the other side of the argument,” Jose said.

Jose said his friend isn’t racist, and that even though his friend supports anti-immigrant policies, he doesn’t have ill will toward him, and vice versa. Jose believes his friend has some sympathy for him and his situation specifically.

Jose believes it’s because, although some people hold negative stereotypes about immigrants, it becomes more complicated when they have to face the situation in a more personal manner.

He just wishes there would be more dialogue between opposing sides for a better sense of understanding, especially because he said he’d rather go to Canada than be deported to Mexico. For him, the U.S. is home.

“The problem is already here,” Jose said. “You can’t just get rid of everybody.”

Original Article