‘I felt safe with the DACA program’: Andrea’s story

Andrea holds magnets from her home country of Guatemala. Andrea has lived in Iowa since 2004.

Emily Blobaum

This piece is part of a series about people in the Iowa State community who are affected by the decisions the U.S. Government makes about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Put into place by the Obama administration in 2012, DACA protects undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

On Sept. 5, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would rescind DACA, with a six-month delay for Congress to act. If legislative action does not occur, recipients, also called Dreamers, may lose their protected status beginning March 6, 2018.

The following passages, save the first sentence, are those of Andrea and have been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity. The Daily has chosen to omit Andrea’s last name to protect her identity.

Andrea, who was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, arrived in the United States on Christmas Day in 2004.  

I remember getting to the Omaha airport and just seeing the snow for the first time in my life, and I could never forget that feeling because it was so calming and so welcoming in a way. I thought, “this is it.” I was six and I was so excited that I could see the snow for the first time and then seeing my dad — it had been a couple of years since I’d seen him so it was good seeing him again.

I didn’t really understand it or really know about [being undocumented] until I got to about 7th grade, because I came here on a plane, so to me everything was fine. When you hear about illegals, it’s through the borders, crossing the border, coming here on ships, and we came on a plane.

I knew my parents didn’t have papers and I knew we didn’t have physical paperwork, but when I thought of papers, I thought they meant physical papers. I was too young to understand that it meant my status and who I was in the government’s eyes, and my brain couldn’t connect those things.

When I got to 7th grade and a lot of my friends were talking about taking driver’s ed, I went up to my mom and I was like, “I want to do this, too.” And she’s like “Well, you can’t, because you can’t get a driver’s license.” And I was like, “Well why not? Why can’t I do this and they can?” and that was when they’re like, “Well, we don’t have our papers, we’re illegal, we came here with visas, but now it’s expired and it’s been expired for a long time, so you can’t work and you can’t have a driver’s license and you can’t have a Social Security number.”

It was hard on me. I couldn’t really talk about it with anyone; I couldn’t really bring it up with anyone. It wasn’t until I got my DACA that I was actually able to talk about it, and it was safe for me to talk about because I couldn’t get deported.

When I got accepted to college, I think that’s when I finally felt OK, because that’s when, even though I knew I was illegal, I knew I would maybe be able to have a future here, but I think a lot of times I just try and push it down and not think about it, just get through it.

It wasn’t until when they started saying that it might be revoked and I wouldn’t be able to drive, I wouldn’t be able to work anymore, all these thoughts started coming back about how awful it was not being able to have papers, and it was something that I didn’t really have a choice in.  

I felt safe with the whole DACA program. But when the presidential election started going on, and there’s been raids all over Iowa with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], especially those first few months when Trump was recently put into the White House, I woke up terrified not for me specifically, but for my parents and my younger sister because she was born here.

So I feel like if anything happens to them, she wouldn’t have them here. I know they wouldn’t want her to go back to Guatemala with them, they would want her to stay here and keep going to school. So just thinking about her now, not having anyone here, it’s usually what I worry about the most.

I recently started working again, my parents told me to take some time off just to deal with school, but knowing that I might not be able to work in a few months put in a different perspective that I need to save up money for those times I might not be able to work and helping my parents out just because I know things are more intense and there’s more raids and if something happens to them I have to find some money to pay for school.

I am definitely being more careful, making sure I drive safer and I not do anything stupid that will get me noticed. I actually got two jobs just in case anything happens I’ll be prepared.

I think even if I do get papers, I feel like deep down I know that I’m still an immigrant, and I’m still going to have that carried around with me for the rest of my life. Even if in the next three years I do get my papers, I don’t think that part of me is ever going to leave, just because it was such a big part of my life growing up.


I’ve been lucky enough not to have anyone be racist or prejudiced to me. Growing up, I had a lot of friends that would be like, ‘Oh you’re so whitewashed,’ and stuff like that. Just because I’ve decided to integrate into the culture I grew up with doesn’t mean I don’t look into my roots, because I do. And it was frustrating because just because I’m wanting to be a part of the culture I grew up in doesn’t mean I’m whitewashed. There’s no such thing as being too American or too Latino, or too whatever; you are who you are, that’s all that matters.

I want to bring awareness about immigration, there’s a lot of rumors and gossip that show up on the Internet and TV and Twitter and a lot of that information is not right and it upsets me that a lot of people believe it, it’s fake news. When immigrants come here they come here for a better life, so obviously they’re not going to go steal cars when they’re are trying to live a better life because that means getting deported.

There were a lot of times when I was in school and I was like what if I come home today and my parents aren’t there and a lot of kids didn’t live with that fear and that makes them in a way naive. They’re just like ‘Go get your papers’ and it’s not that easy. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time, I’ve been here 15 years and my dad has been here a little over 20 years and we still don’t have our papers. I just want people to know it’s not as easy as they think it is.

I think a lot of us Dreamers, we’re not just dreamers, but we are fighters because we’re fighting for our dreams to be able to have our papers. A lot of them are not doing it just for themselves, they’re doing it for their parents, their siblings and I am too. I want to have a better life because my parents took the risks for me to be here, and I want to show my sister that I wasn’t born here but I can still make it, so she can too.

Additional reporting by the Daily’s Whitney Mason.

If anyone would like to share their story about DACA with the Daily, please contact [email protected]