The Broken Dream: Immigration in America and the DACA Dreamer’s Act

A few months after my student, Azucena Rodriguez, graduated, I was still thinking about her and contacted her about doing a story and photo shoot. She happily agreed and came in to see me again with her children. When I met Fabian, Cruz, and Miranda today, it was only the second time I had met them. In the near 40 shots from our photo shoot, they huddled close to their mother and glared at me. They didn’t fully trust me but, more importantly, they wanted to protect their mother.

This is not the story that I set out to write, but it is the story that came to me.

Born in Mexico, Azucena came to the United States as a child–a Dreamer of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Though she never asked to come, she is thankful for America because she has been able to pursue a better quality of life here than in her home country. Contrary to popular opinion, Azucena gets nothing out of DACA. There are no free government aid programs that she qualifies for. All she gets out of it is the right to continue to apply for a work visa to stay in this country. That’s something that has become even more important to her as an adult since she is married with three children born in the United States.

“Even though my children are born in the United States (and citizens here), we would get kicked out and separated if the current administration ends DACA. Many families leave their kids behind so they can have a better life here,” Azucena said, “but I will not be separated from my children. I would take them with me. In Mexico, however, they would not be eligible to go to school or get any sort of health care.” –Azucena Rodriguez

What kind of life is that for an American Citizen?

When I met Fabian, Cruz, and Miranda today, it was only the second time I had met them. I tried to imagine what it was like to grow up with a mom that is always gone for school or work, a mom that the government can decide to take away in an instant because of what a piece of paper says about her. If I had to live with the constant threat of losing my mother, I would probably glare at an aristocratic-looking white woman too. If words on a paper are enough to identify what should happen to a person, then I would hope these words on this paper mean something too.

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These are the faces of real people, readers. These are the faces of hard-working people that want a better life for themselves in America–the same way my European ancestors did centuries before me when they came here.

Not all illegals crossing the border came here to hurt us and NONE deserve to be kept in cages apart from their families on a non-existent wall. What we are doing is nothing less than what we did to the Japanese-Americans during WWII; those are camps, people, not cages. They were inhumane then and they are inhumane now.

Yes, we need border security, but we also need a fair path for immigrants to become citizens. Azucena grew up in America and only knows it as her home country BUT she can’t become a citizen here. As the law stands now, she has to wait for one of her own kids to turn 18 and choose to sponsor her citizenship in America. Is this what fair citizenship rules look like?

I wonder where any of us would be if our ancestors were treated like we treat the Dreamers today. Only the Native Americans can claim they sprouted from this continent and very few of us Americans can prove even a thimble-full of their blood.

“…Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door! –from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Have we forgotten who we are, America? What enemy, real or imagined, could ever inspire us to treat each other the way we treat each other now?

Azucena Rodriguez: DACA Student Graduate

In 2012, a young mother with small children tried to come back to school and finish her high school education. She took the entrance exams and received the sad news that she had “zero knowledge” and “needed to go back to middle school”. She felt disappointed and ignorant.

Azucena left the school, and a friend referred her to Literacy Connections of Wayne County. That’s where she met Brandy Ross. Brandy was a member of the Air Force who volunteered her spare time to tutor at the center. “Brandy was tough,” Azucena said, “she gave lots of homework and took no excuses. One time I couldn’t finish my homework because my daughter was sick. She said, ‘Look, I need you to be serious with this. I want you to do your homework and next time, don’t even come if it’s not done.’ Then she walked out and left me to do the work.”

Brandy was demanding, but she wasn’t always so tough. Learning English as a second language, Azucena struggled with grammar and vocabulary. When she didn’t understand what a word meant, Brandy would look up different ways to explain the words to her. She bought her gifts to encourage her too like boxes of pencils and erasers and Dr. Seuss books.

Brandy Ross showed me a different way to see life, and she gave me hope. –Azucena Rodriguez

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Azucena (left) with Brandy Ross on the last day of her tutoring

Another person that helped during this time was the then director of Literacy Connections, Ms. Pat. Whenever Azucena got discouraged, Ms. Pat was there to encourage her and push her to find hope when there was no hope.

Ms. Pat taught me that the only thing that can stop you is yourself. –Azucena Rodriguez

Because of Pat and Brandy’s investment, Azucena got the knowledge–in a year–that she needed to enter the High School Equivalency program at Wayne Community College. That’s where I met her.

When I first met Azucena (pronounced as-zoo-see-nuh), I stumbled over her name. “Call me Lily,” she said with a smile, “that’s what it means anyway.” It was 2013, and I was fairly new to teaching. I began to look forward to seeing Lily’s bright, enthusiastic spirit in my classroom. She inspired her peers, and she inspired me.

Nevertheless, the need to work won out for her. Lily got offered a job that took her more and more away from school until, finally, she quit school altogether. “I knew school was important,” Azucena said, “but I didn’t realize how important it was to the big picture of what I wanted to do.” As the responsibilities of her job increased, so did the gnawing guilt of knowing that she was giving up on her education. She wondered how she could ever expect her children to finish school if she didn’t do so herself. She was making good money and moving into management, but she was working 24-7. “I felt like I was married to my work; I didn’t even realize how much I was tearing down my own body and hurting myself. It was crazy to work that much without rest.”

Lily had the opportunity to meet some of the executives in the company that she worked for. It was at that point that she realized that she meant nothing more than the manual labor that got the job done for them. Education would make all the difference.

Lily had further confirmation of this idea when she discovered that her work permit would not be eligible for renewal unless she was enrolled in school. So, reluctantly or otherwise, Lily came back to us in November 2016.

Azucena was a focused and devoted student, but her resolve was different this time. This time she was staying till she finished her degree. She came to every class, led small groups, and worked over 80 hours online in supplemental work. She wasn’t the cheerful Lily from before either. She was pensive and angry at herself for ever letting go of her education in the first place. She was also annoyed by the apathy of her peers. She had seen the real world and how little it had to offer to someone without an education. Why didn’t they care more?

I thought that, in life, all you had to be was a hardworking person, but it’s not true. You need education to learn what you don’t know. Being a hard worker burns you (takes all your energy), knowledge doesn’t. Without school, you’re nobody. –Azucena Rodriguez

In May 2018, Azucena Rodriguez finally achieved her goal. She walked across the auditorium stage in her cap and gown and felt the pride of a dream being fulfilled. Her mother, husband, and three children were there to love and support her.


Azucena has some fun with grad pictures with her children (left to right): Miranda, Cruz, and Fabian

For now, Azucena is enjoying time with her family. She hopes to get a part-time job and come back to school for a degree in Industrial Systems Technology.