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

Jair’s memories of crossing the border into the United States from Mexico were not pleasant ones. On his family’s third attempt, he remembers being drugged, floating down the river in an empty wheel and sitting in a hot UHaul truck.

Whitney Mason

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 paragraph are those of Jair and have been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity. The Daily has chosen to omit Jair’s last name to protect his identity.

Jair was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, but has spent most of his life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His family left 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 their ticket 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 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.

[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 coworkers, 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.

Additional reporting by the Daily’s Emily Blobaum. 

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