Alicia De Leon Mendoza is a Del Norte County success story.
She was a Jaycees princess, homecoming queen, prom queen and Miss Del Norte. She earned an associate’s degree in behavioral and social science from College of the Redwoods, is on the California Endowment’s President Advisory Council and will graduate from Oregon State University in December with degrees marketing and finance.
De Leon Mendoza is also a Dreamer and could be deported in six months if Congress takes no action to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“It’s hard not knowing and not being able to plan,” she said. “I’ll graduate in December, but who’s to say that when I apply for a job and they figure out this is a DACA recipient, (they could say,) ‘We don’t want to deal with training her and then come November she can’t work and we have to lay her off.’”
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, De Leon Mendoza was 5 years old when she came with her parents to the U.S. She said her parents had arrived in the country on a tourist visa in 1999 and continued living in the U.S. after it had expired.
After two years of living in Oakland, De Leon Mendoza said her parents decided Crescent City would be a better place to raise a family.
“My dad had lived here prior to going back to Mexico after my grandfather had a stroke,” De Leon Mendoza said. “He spent some years in Mexico and that’s where he met my mother. I was born, my sister was born and he just wanted to come back. This was the life he wanted to give us.”
De Leon Mendoza couldn’t speak English when her parents enrolled her at Joe Hamilton Elementary School as a second grader in 2001. By third grade she had graduated from the ESL program.
De Leon Mendoza graduated from Del Norte High School on June 15, 2012 — the day President Barack Obama signed the executive order putting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in place, she said.
“Here I am a high school grad thinking about what I am going to do,” De Leon Mendoza said. “I can’t get federal financial aid. I can’t get loans. I can’t get the aid that a citizen or a resident gets from the government in order to pursue my higher education. I can’t work here legally. My life was up in the air... and then I hear the news.”
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protects from deportation individuals who were brought into the U.S. when they were children. It also provides work permits. About 800,000 DACA recipients live in the U.S.
To be eligible for DACA, individuals need to have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, have lived here since June 2007 and not be older than 30 in 2012. A DACA recipient can’t have a criminal record, they need a document of their birth certificate, evidence of living in the U.S. and even fingerprinting and other biometric analyses to continue to stay in the country under DACA, said College of the Redwoods Professor Philip Mancus during a community discussion on the issue last week. Recipients typically need legal counsel to help them through the process, Mancus said.
Many Dreamers are currently facing a $500 fee and an Oct. 5 deadline to renew their DACA applications. The Mission Asset Fund (MAF) announced it will provide $1 million in scholarships to more than 2,000 Dreamers to pay for DACA renewals. Of that $1 million, $500,000 is earmarked to students attending California community colleges, California State Universities and the University of California, according to the MAF press release.
DACA recipients with expiring permits should visit LC4DACA.org to apply for MAF scholarships.
Meanwhile, state funding may also be allocated to communities to support Dreamers facing the Oct. 5 deadline to renew their permits, according to Geneva Wiki, program manager for the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative in Del Norte. But those dollars would be on a reimbursement basis, which could be a burden on county budgets. Wiki said the California Endowment is looking at providing funding to offset that burden.
“Things are moving very quickly,” she said. “I think the most important things are for the $1 million fund to provide scholarships for DACA renewal by the Oct. 5 deadline because the $500 is really a knee-jerk burden for lots of people. That is the most important information to get out right now because the fee for DACA renewals is such a big barrier and the Oct. 5 deadline is quickly approaching.”
Wiki recently sent an email to several community partners, including Del Norte County Unified School District officials, asking for information on how many Del Norte residents are affected by the DACA decision.
Jeff Harris, Del Norte County superintendent of schools, said since parents are no longer required to provide birth certificates when enrolling their children, he couldn’t say how many Dreamers were attending Del Norte schools. Under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, officials don’t review citizenship status or ask for Social Security numbers, he said. The school district also doesn’t regularly make that information available to others, Harris said.
“For us it’s about educating children. It’s not about monitoring immigration status,” he said. “As schools go, we are the neutral safe zone for kids throughout their educational process.”
There are also Dreamers working for the school district. Harris said he knew of two people working with the school district who are DACA recipients, but added that he’s more concerned about their ability to teach kids than their immigration status. He said he’ll be bringing a resolution supporting Dreamers to the School Board on Thursday.
“Whether you agree or disagree with DACA, a promise was made to the youth who entered the country under that particular program,” Harris said. “In most cases, the vast majority of those young people have lived up to their end of the bargain. I think it would be a broken promise to rescind DACA for those people … who did become contributing members to the American society.”
De Leon Mendoza said she hopes Congress acts quickly so she can begin planning for life after college. She said her parents had applied for residency status for their family in 2001 with the help of a sponsor, De Leon Mendoza’s aunt, but the Department of Homeland Security has yet to process it.
Since she’s over 21, De Leon Mendoza said she’s not sure if she would still be eligible for residency status under her parent’s application. If not, she said she would need a company or a close relative who’s a U.S. citizen to sponsor her. It’s a long expensive process, De Leon Mendoza said, and no one in her immediate family is in the country legally.
There’s also a lot of misinformation surrounding DACA, De Leon Mendoza said. She recently lost an internship at Intel even though she was one of their top picks. According to De Leon Mendoza, Intel representatives said they wouldn’t be able to sponsor anyone who’s not a citizen or a resident.
“I was like wait you don’t have to sponsor me,” she said. “Legally I can work. I have my Social Security number and I have my worker’s authorization. I explained this is what DACA is …”
With immigration and DACA in the news, De Leon Mendoza said she feels an obligation to talk about her situation that she didn’t feel when she earned her Miss Del Norte crown in 2013. She says she’s not the only DACA recipient in Del Norte County.
“It’s kind of a time to speak up and to (tell) everyone that has seen me grow up and succeed: This is my story,” she said. “This is who I am essentially. Everyone has experiences that have made you the person you are today, whether it’s your parents raising you or not, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an immigrant or not. It’s just who you are. It comes down to humanity.”
For more information about DACA, visit www.immigrantguide.ca.gov and weareheretostay.org. Building Healthy Communities - Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands also has information on its Facebook page regarding DACA and how to support Dreamers.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .