One face of many: A look at an undocumented student’s life

Claudette Monroy, 30, has until March 2019 to renew her DACA application. If she cannot, she plans to return to Mexico. Credit: Sarah Gibson

When Claudette Monroy uprooted her life to move to the United States, she was excited.

For other fifteen-year-olds, the concept of leaving behind friends, school and home can be daunting. Not only did she have to leave behind the only home she’d ever known, but she also faced a four-day-long car ride from Terreón in northern Mexico to Fairfax, Va.

But Monroy says she wasn’t upset.

Coming to America meant she would be able to enroll in school for the first time in three years, when she had to drop out to care for her 3-year-old sister.

Monroy’s father died when she was 10 years old. Her mother tried to support the family afterward, but struggled to balance caring for a baby and working, so Monroy had to stop her formal education to help.

Now at age 30, Monroy is an advocate for immigrants.

“There is not just one story,” Monroy said. “There are other people who are in really difficult circumstances who are more scared to speak up. So that’s why I share my story, to put a face and a story to an issue.”

Her visa expired in 2012, and she has been here legally ever since through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy.

“There is not just one story. There are other people who are in really difficult circumstances who are more scared to speak up.”

DACA permits are only eligible for two year intervals, and must be renewed for $495 every time they are about to expire. Monroy’s permit will expire in March 2019. However, she may not be able to renew it.

On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the DACA program. No new applicants will be accepted, and unless something changes, no current permits will be renewed.

Monroy said her family originally immigrated because her mother wanted all of her daughters to live in the same place, and Monroy’s older sister had already established herself in Fairfax, Va. So she took Monroy, then 15, and her younger sister, then 6, to live with their older sister, then 19. 

She said her mother thought there would be more opportunity to find a job in America. Upon arriving, she discovered how difficult it was to adjust, and returned to Mexico.

Now, they meet in Texas if they want to see each other, or her mother comes to the D.C. area to visit. Monroy cannot leave the country and re-enter legally because of her DACA status.

She hopes Congress reintroduces DACA so she is able to stay past 2019, but said she will return to Mexico to live near her mother and extended family if DACA is not renewed.

She said it is difficult to live and work in America without legal status, and she has worked hard to earn her education. If she stayed illegally, she would end up working a lower-level job that didn’t require legal status.

Monroy says she feels privileged compared to people who came to the country as infants and who only know America as their homes. While she wants to stay, she said she would be OK if she had to move back to Mexico.

She’s on track to graduate in from George Washington University in May 2018, but her career plans are on hold until she knows what will happen with DACA.

Monroy is one of many immigrants in similar situations. In March 2018, about 30,000 people will lose their DACA status if they are unable to re-apply.

“This time around, it was not just immigrants advocating for immigrants’ rights.”

However, Monroy is hopeful. She thinks the attitude of the public has been different since President Trump took office.

“This time around, it was not just immigrants advocating for immigrants’ rights,” Monroy said.

She hopes that people stay engaged in advocating for immigrants regardless of their own race or socioeconomic status.

“Nothing is going to change if the middle class white population does not help,” Monroy said.

Colleen Muse, a grant writer for the Latin American Youth Center in D.C., said the DACA program in their organization is a “passion program” run by staff in their free time. She is a volunteer for the program in addition to her day job.

Muse said the DACA aid program was started in 2015 by staff who wanted to make sure the youth they serve could access funds they needed to get immigration status, particularly DACA.

It has since been opened up to other types of immigration requests, from assistance getting green cards to speaking with immigration lawyers. The program helps with a variety of immigration expenses even after DACA has formally ended.

In addition to the youth they serve, Muse said there are also staff with DACA status at the center.

“We are trying to keep upbeat, but it is definitely a scary and tenuous time for them,” Muse said.

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