‘We’re not just dreamers, but we are fighters’

Emily Blobaum and Whitney Mason

This series shares the stories of people in the Iowa State community 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 paragraphs of each story, are direct quotes from those interviewed and have been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity. The Daily has chosen to omit some of the individuals’ last names to protect identities.


‘I’m not leaving without a fight’: Jair 

‘Every day I’m terrified’: Hugo Bolanos

‘I felt safe with the DACA program’: Andrea 

‘I’m not leaving without a fight’: Jair’s story

By [email protected]  

Jair was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, but has spent most of his life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His family left home when he was about five, as the area they were living in became too violent. 

We tried to cross about like three times but we couldn’t cross because I was too young and I always cried, I always made it difficult. Eventually she sent me with someone else.

The people who helped us crossed the border were called coyotajes. What they did to us was they would drug the kids, they would give us medicine to fall asleep, that is how they crossed us across the river.

They got us to fall asleep and they got us in an empty wheel, so they would just stuff us in and would float us. With me, the water kind of splashed in my face, so that woke me up. With the other kids, they were too drugged, or in the case of the little girl [with my group], she probably just drowned. I didn’t get to see her after we crossed the river, I just remember hearing them scream, ‘we have to go, she’ll be fine.’

We ended up going through the streets and the desert. Every time we had to go through trucks so they could pick us up and go. There were a lot of gangs that knew where we were going and they would always stop by specifically to rape the women. That was kind of like [the women’s] tickets to cross to the other side.

When we were all inside the U-Haul truck, they stuff you inside with a bunch of other people and the only reason they stop is to get gasoline or to drop people off at their destination or if someone dies from heat exhaustion.

They stuffed me and my friend Daniela into the corner and we kind of had to sit down and the only thing we had was a gallon of water that was already empty and a hole to breathe through.

Daniela, she would always make fun of me and would always say that I was weak because I would always complain.

I was thinking I had to toughen up and not complain, but I couldn’t because it was too hot and tiring being cramped in a little corner and I was just wondering ‘Oh how could she just lay there and sleep the whole time.’

I tried waking her up and the person that I was given to, she just told me that she was asleep and so I just let her be for the whole ride, but I just thought that she was really strong. But when we got off, I realized that she was dead.

Now I can be in tight spaces, it just makes it hard for me to breathe and when I see a bunch of trucks that are similar to that truck, I feel like the breath is being taken away from me.


When I realized things were different [for me] was at 12 years old. I started working and I thought that was normal.

I went to work with my dad doing roof jobs with a mechanic to help pay bills and that really put a lot of strain on my life, I couldn’t go out and play and have a social life, I can’t say I had a childhood.

My dad always told me, ’I know times are tough but you have to grow up and help us out.’

I ended up falling into depression when I was in my freshman year. It really hit me when I tried to get my license and my dad had to explain I was undocumented.

I always knew that I was foreigner, but I didn’t know that it was such a big deal to be undocumented.

In high school, I wanted to help pay for my books in the right way, I wanted to get a job, my dad never wanted me to work in fast food, he was being really picky about it and so was I.

When I got a job it was just by chance, I saw the lifeguard recruiting office, I just passed by. I heard one of my friends talking about how they were going to go try out.

I started working and was a certified EMS. I really liked it and I wanted to help people out and that’s what I really liked about the job.

I got to see people smile, I got to see people have fun and I liked being the reason for that.

One thing I remember that always kept me going was when I had to save a little girl and the dad he was crying, and he was very appreciative and he came back the next day and he was kissing my hand.

At first I thought it was weird because I didn’t think of that approach, but then I was happy because, “Oh, I made a difference, I actually helped someone.”


I applied for DACA and it was a lot of money. I had to go through a lot of lawyers and I eventually got it after three or four months. It was a lot of money on top of the tuition I had to pay [for high school].

It hurt my family financially, we were not in a good financial stance before high school and when that happened it affected us even more.

I really feel bad for the fact that my sisters they didn’t get the privileges I got even though they were born here because most of the money was spent on me. My sister couldn’t get into the high school she wanted because of money. My little sister couldn’t get the toys she wanted.


After DACA, I still realized what it meant to be undocumented, it felt worse when Trump [announced he] was going to run.

At first we thought it was a joke, but when [we] realized he might end up winning, that put a lot of stress on us. When he got elected, the majority of [the students at] my school were Republicans.

There were students that even made freshmen cry, they would tell them, ‘Hey we’ll see you in Mexico.’ For me they would grab Trump stickers and stick them on our backs and one time they filled a whole car full of Trump stickers. It really hit me hard when it happened to me.

[Around the same time] That’s when stuff started getting rough about the college process. That’s when [the Latino club] had a large meeting. Honestly, we all cried. We felt really hurt about what was going on.

Throughout the college process, our counselor told all the DACA students to just settle for something less. In Wisconsin, going to a community college was frowned upon and that’s where she would tell us to go or take a gap year and work.

She kind of discouraged me from applying, but one night I was like, ‘I don’t care, I’ve been taking risks all my life.’ I applied to all the schools she said I wasn’t going to get into. I got rejected from a lot of schools for being undocumented. They told me I couldn’t apply because I was undocumented or I had to pay $100,000 to be an international student. It was really hard picking a school. Iowa State was one of my options because of the architecture program is really good.

We don’t qualify for financial aid, scholarships or loans so that was another hard thing.

I worked in three different places, I would go from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. then from 5:20 to 8 p.m. I worked at another pool, then from 8 to 10:30 p.m. I would work the entire day.

I managed to raise enough money to go here, but now I’m self-providing, basically paying for my own rent, my own tuition.

My parents are working hard themselves, they each have three jobs. My sister wants to get a job to help me pay for college. She is a sophomore in high school, I feel bad she has to think about that.

I come to college because I want to repay my family. We went through such a long process and I feel bad for all the things I made them go through.

My whole family put a lot of weight on me, they’re all looking up to me. That’s where I am the kind of like the role model, I’m the oldest in the family and the oldest out of all of my cousins.

I’m already stressing about money [to pay for college]. I always tell my friends I’m not leaving without a fight. I carry my whole family on my shoulders, I’m the one who’s supposed to get them out of the struggle that they’re going through and when I get out of college I have to go back and help them.  

I want to get a better life for myself and my family. That’s my dream to buy my family a house and get them out of the iffy place they are in now.


I’ve really made [Iowa State] my home.

[Lake LaVerne] reminds me of the pond in front of the apartment I went to when I first arrived. There’s this sculpture with the panthers that reminds me of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I’m from. Curtiss Hall reminds me of UW-Madison. Lied Rec reminds me of when every Thursday I would go [to soccer] practice with my dad.

I’ve made a home here and it kinda sucks that I’m being kicked out. Since I’ve made Iowa State my home, that’s where I made my comfort in when I feel everything is falling apart.

I love taking classes here, sometimes I don’t sleep but that’s just what it’s like for a student in the design studies. Every time I do my homework I always bring a picture of my family and I always look at it, and it is my motivation for when I want to sleep.

There were times where I hadn’t eaten for two weeks straight. [Currently] I’m running out of food, usually my friends help me. They take me out to eat and I start crying. They don’t understand how much that means to me.


It’s really hard to talk to people here [at Iowa State]. When I talk to Americans, I feel really low, like I feel they’re in a higher standard and that I can’t talk to them because of who I am. It’s just hard to talk to people, I feel like they’re going to reject me, I don’t feel as comfortable here as I felt in Milwaukee.

Iowa State isn’t prepared for people that are undocumented and that was one of my goals coming here, come here and do community service, join a Latino club and I want to fundraise and make a scholarship for undocumented students.

I want to create a scholarship for undocumented students going through financial struggles and give them the funds that they need and help them out because I know it’s hard for me.

It’s hell. It’s just really stressful, I can’t have fun in public spaces, every time I go out I cry. I cry about leaving my friends and [possibly] not being able to come back next semester.

My body is shutting down, I sometimes miss class not because I want to, but because of lack of sleep and stress I put onto myself.

I end up falling asleep and missing shifts, work and classes, and it’s hard to explain to co-workers, bosses and professors that I haven’t slept or eaten in days.

I don’t really like being myself, I wish I wasn’t in this position. I wish I could come to school and have fun.


The Daily’s Emily Blobaum contributed to this story. 


‘Every day I’m terrified’: Hugo Bolanos’ story

By [email protected] 

Hugo Bolanos, a 2017 graduate from Iowa State in journalism and international studies, arrived in the United States with his aunt and cousin in May 2000. He started school that August, attending Crestview Elementary in Clive, Iowa.

I was born in Michoacán, Mexico and I lived there for about six years, my mom and dad were gone from about age four to six, and it was just my sister and I in Mexico. She was taking care of me, she was about 12 and the reason is my mom and dad were in the States, they were working, trying to get enough money to take my sister and I over.

At the time I didn’t really know what was going on, it was just sad because I didn’t know why I was just with my sister. Eventually my mom came back, she told me that we’d be going to the States and I was happy.

I tried making friends as soon as I got here, but I didn’t know any English so I tried playing some games with some of the kids, but the way you play games in Mexico is completely different than the way you play here.

In Mexico, you don’t have much of a playground, you maybe have some swings and then that’s about it. But in Mexico, I remember, as weird as it sounds, we’d throw rocks at each other and you try to dodge them and it would be kind of like dodgeball.

I remember I came to first grade and the first recess, I was like ‘OK, I don’t know what’s going on, I’ll just try and make friends’ and there was this rock climbing wall with some rocks at the bottom just in case you fell and I remember I grabbed some rocks and threw them at some kids to initiate ‘Hey, do you want to play?’ But I remember I got in trouble and I would get “rule slips.” It caused my parents to get even more mad at me and I didn’t know how to defend myself because I didn’t know English so after a while I was like ‘OK, maybe throwing rocks isn’t the best idea.’


[Life in Mexico] was horrible. I remember my dad, when we first arrived here he would always bring up ‘Oh, you gotta appreciate what you have here in America,’ ‘you gotta appreciate every little thing down to the food, to the clothes, to just enjoying another beautiful day in air conditioning’ and he would always tell me stories about how when he was growing up he didn’t have much to eat. He would just eat tortillas with salt, and that was it. 

He would always remind me of how he didn’t have much underwear, just because he didn’t have much money to buy it so he would wear the same underwear for more than two days. And I thought that was pretty nasty, but it just made me realize, ‘damn, shit was tough.’

He said that he would get holes in his shoes and he would have to sew his clothes and it was just really bad. My mom also mentioned that when my sister was born, they would have to use the same diaper, just trying their best to clean it out and use the same diaper all over again.

That’s not something you really imagine, it’s just really scary to think about, compared to how we’re living now.

I think ultimately my parents made a great decision coming here just because we live so much better. To me, I think they’re wealthy even though we don’t have the most money.


Once you come, you have to stay. If you do go back wherever you’re from, they’re going to make sure you stay there. My family and I of course, we want to go back and visit our family members, but there’s no way we can stay there for the rest of our lives. It would really be extremely difficult because we’re accustomed to the American culture. The food is different, the living situation is different, so honestly, I don’t think I would be able to live in Mexico because I’ve been here 17 years of my life.

On top of it, I have so much going for me here in the States that I don’t think me going back to Mexico is the best thing. I think I have the possibility of achieving my dreams here and that’s why I want to stay here, just because I have so much that I can give not only to the country, but to myself and my family.

Now that Trump has gone with what he said, from now until March is just kind of a waiting game, so every day I’m terrified. Every night I pray and thank God for giving me another day here, and hopefully the next day can also be in the States.

A week in my shoes is just knowing that you’re going to have to wake up and think about this and sometimes when you hear the door knocking, it could be your last day or sometimes when you’re eating with your family, it could be the last meal you have with them. Sometimes when you’re driving, it could be the last time you’re driving down that street.

It just hurts because you never know when your last day is going to come and also you want to show people that you’re not a bad person, you want them to understand what you’re going through and also see the way that you do it because there’s no reason for DACA to be gone. It’s helped so many people and those people have really done nothing but good for this country.


My senior year, I was undocumented and so after my senior year there really wasn’t much else I could do except find a job that would be willing to pay me for labor or something. So I just thought the rest of my life would just be about labor and just crappy jobs.

So then I was really depressed my senior year because I knew it was my last year in school and I knew I didn’t really have anything going for me after high school because I couldn’t’ really go to a university or anything.

Then Obama passed DACA and it just opened my eyes. I applied and couldn’t believe this was actually happening so I was like ‘OK, I’m not going to get my hopes up until I have my social security and my work permit in my hands, that’s when I’ll believe it.’ And sure enough, they came within six months or so and I was ecstatic. As soon as I got it, I applied to [Des Moines Area Community College].

[When I graduated from Iowa State], I started crying as soon as I walked up the stage and sat down because I realized that what I came here for was because my parents wanted a better future for me. Just having the moment of walking through the stage and living in that moment, it’s going to live with me for the rest of my life.

And I remember just breaking down and crying in my chair because it was just something I never imagined would’ve happened and I never would have thought the opportunity of going to a university was ever possible until DACA.

So it’s just achieving those four years of university and finally realizing that I had accomplished something much greater, not just for myself, but for my family just made me get all emotional and made me realize that everything was taken for granted until that moment.

I try to be a positive person and I try and just make every day like it’s my last so it’s if you were to see me today as my last day, it’s like ‘oh he was always happy, he was always joyful’ and that’s what I think about every day, just making everyone seem like they matter and making everyone see that there’s always going to be problems, but there’s always good things to look forward to you.

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

By [email protected]

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

I remember getting to the Omaha [Nebraska] 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 seventh 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 seventh 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 [gave me] a different perspective that I need to save up money for those times I might not be able to work and [also] help my parents out, because I know 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 naïve. 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 and siblings. 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.

Resources can be found here: https://iastate.app.box.com/notes/223047015387?s=hqp300h7c0wqk25ufkzlvevmsrt0yi9n

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