Eighteen years ago, Ivonne Gonzalez’s passport was stamped. After years of traveling back and forth from Mexico to the United States for work, Gonzalez’s father was finally granted a work visa, and her family a visiting visa.
“My family came here with a visiting visa that technically expired in ten years,” Gonzales said. “My brother and I basically overstayed our welcome.”
Though originally born in Mexico, Gonzales has lived in the United States since she was three years old. While her family still speaks Spanish, celebrates Mexican holidays and often eats traditional Mexican food, Gonzales said she grew up engrossed in the culture of those around her.
“I lived in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and at the time my family was one of the first Latino families in the area,” Gonzales said. “All of my friends were white, so I was basically immersed in American culture at such an early age.”
While Gonzales said she was always aware that she was different, she never understood how. That all changed in third grade.
“We were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up, and i said I wanted to be the President of the United States,” Gonzales said. “Some boy in class said I couldn’t be the president because I wasn’t born here.”
Gonzales’s realization is not unlike the realization of other young immigrants in the United States. Mizari Suarez, a 21-year-old junior studying social justice and political science, came to the United States when she was three with false documentation. A coyote, or woman pretending to be her mother, took her and her siblings across the border.
“In the late ‘90s it was super easy to come here,” Suarez said. “There was no concept of building the wall, or anything like that.”
Suarez she began to understand that her situation was unlike the other children after the September 11 attacks.
“When the twin towers were attacked, I said I wanted to be a lawyer and I wanted to help people like my mom,” Suarez said.
After saying that, Suarez said her teacher began asking more personal questions about what her mother did. Her mother had already taught her not to share too personal of information, so Suarez did what her mother told her, gave vague answers, and continued to accept a more secretive life.
That all changed after her mother was domestically abused.
Upset about what had happened, Suarez said she would question her mother about why she would not go to the police. Her family moved from their home in Nebraska to Lexington.
Eventually, though, Suarez’s mother decided to speak out about her domestic violence, and her family was given the opportunity to apply for a “U” visa, a visa set aside for victims of crimes and their immediate family members. The visa allowed a path towards citizenship, which Suarez will officially be allowed to apply for in August 2018.
While Suarez’s path towards citizenship is clear, Gonzales’s is not.
After realizing that her visiting visa had expired during her application for high school, Gonzales said she followed the DREAM Act closely.
Though the bill was first introduced in August 2001, legislators struggled passing it. Eventually, on August 15, 2012, the bill was officially enacted and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Gonzalez said she almost immediately applied to become a “dreamer.”
“I had to go back to the Shelby County School Board to get records that I had been in class and lived there,” Gonzales said. “I had to turn in awards, report cards, newspaper clippings — it wasn’t that the application was hard, it was just all of the information you had to provide.”
To be a dreamer, immigrants had to be younger than 18 years old, have proof of arriving in the United States before the age of 16, proof of residency for at least five consecutive years and have graduated from an American high school, or admitted to some institute of higher learning.
The act also required that applicants be of good moral character. Dreamers could not have criminal records, were expected to be in good standing at school and should be considered good citizens by their neighbors.
Nearly 790,000 people have registered to become dreamers through the program since it was created five years ago, according to data from the USCIS. Over 6,000 dreamers currently in the Kentucky area, and around 5,000 dreamers are from the Louisville area like Gonzales.
As Trump’s campaign focused more and more on what he deemed illegal immigration, many political scientists worried that he would roll back Obama’s DACA program. Though the threat was imminent, Gonzales and Suarez said there has always been a fear from immigrants.
“I was fearful, but I reminded myself that this is nothing new,” Suarez said. “We’ve always had presidents that have attacked immigrants.”
For Suarez, though, this time is different.
“There’s something about the immigrant community,” Suarez said. “They’re very fierce, and they’re fighting for bigger and better things.”
When Trump’s administration announced that they would officially let DACA slowly run out, Gonzales was watching.
“I listened to Jeff Sessions give the announcements,” Gonzales said. “It was pure bullshit. The word that kept resinating with me was compassion — ‘show compassion.’ I was baffled. Compassion to who?”
Gonzales said her biggest worry was never about her citizenship, but what the government may do about possible undocumented parents of dreamers. The BRIDGE Act introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin protect the model immigrants that might be current dreamers, but Gonzales said she is worried that they do not protect other family members.
Both Gonzales and Suarez are members of the Kentucky Dream Coalition, an activism group focused on the rights of Kentucky immigrants. A core member of the group Suarez said, she encourages people to go to the KDC, or a national organization like United We Dream, to both education themselves on immigration topics, and help donate to funds focused on activism or helping dreamers pay the $465 fee to reapply for DACA.