by Lizzy Gilbert, Corporate & Community Development, Anti-Defamation League
ABOUT THIS SERIES: “We Are Still a Nation of Immigrants” is a project of the Anti-Defamation League – Plains States Region Civil Rights Committee. The series features personal stories from local immigrants. Because of its commitment to justice, the Civil Rights Committee of the Plains States Regional Board of the ADL has made the issue of immigration a priority for study, research and education. NOTE: To preserve the authenticity of the writer’s voice, ADL has refrained from editing the story.
I have kept my immigration story a secret. I’m very outgoing in so many ways, so people never question. People don’t know. My family and I are very careful who we talk to.
I was 14 when I came to the states. My dad didn’t want to be separated any longer from us. He said, “I better pay money to bring you here.” We were pretty lucky. We had a friend that lived in Texas who told us, “I’ll help you get across; don’t worry. I don’t want anything to happen to you.” My parents’ friend had kids, so we were pretending to be someone else’s kids to get through the line. The borderline. She just put us in the back of her car. My mom and her were driving in the front. We chose a really late night so we could pretend we were sleeping, so nobody asked us anything.
I was nervous and scared at the same time. I just couldn’t sleep. I knew what was going on. I felt afraid because I could see the fear in other people. While we were in a hotel at the border, waiting to make this happen, there were other people waiting to cross too, but they didn’t have a way. At least we had friends; we knew it was somewhat safe. We weren’t swimming in the river, doing this riskier stuff. I saw in their eyes the feeling of being on the border; it was scary.
My dad traveled from Omaha to Texas. When I saw him, I felt relieved. He made us feel secure — at least we’re together. Dad hadn’t met my youngest sister, who was three, because Mother became pregnant on his last visit. It was all a little awkward, but it’s still your family, you come together regardless.
When we came to Omaha and were passing downtown, Dad said, “We’re very close.” We saw the nice buildings, but when we entered L Street, there was the smell of packinghouses. I said, “No, no we not live close — because of the smell.” He laughed and said, “This is where the Mexicans live; this is our community.” We arrived to our apartment in time for my dad to go to work at the meatpacking place, so we stayed home, and he left.
My mother right away got busy to find out where we would enroll in school and to get us familiar with the neighborhood. I went to Norris Middle School in eighth grade. My teacher spoke Spanish and said, “We’re going to learn English together,” so that made me feel comfortable, and I was able to succeed. Now I am a college graduate and working on a master’s. My undergrad is in marketing management, and I am applying those skills in a small business in my community.
I applied for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). I now have a social security number and a work permit. This is a door opener! I know I’m blessed. It’s a joy. I feel more comfortable now. I do a lot more things.
Because of my DACA status, they categorized me on my work permit differently. When I went to the DMV and applied for a state ID and driver’s license, the DMV person said this was her first encounter with this kind of application but remembered a couple months ago they had done a system upgrade.
I successfully passed the learner’s permit test, signed the papers, was fingerprinted, but when the clerk went to print my license, it would not print. She gave me an “examiner refusal” that said my DACA status made it impossible for me to receive the learner’s permit. The official language: “The application process for the above Driving Privilege(s), endorsement(s) and or restriction(s) can not be entirely completed due to the following reasons: I-766 Employee Authorization Card with a Category of C33 is not valid to issue a document in Nebraska due to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). PDPS is incomplete,” is difficult to interpret. I want to think that it is okay, but now once more I have to wait
In the past I was offered jobs in my career. I met a lot of different people that said, “You would be a great asset for my company, come work for me.” I thought to myself, yeah, great opportunity, but how do you get in? I tried many times to go many places and hit the wall. Finally, when I got my work permit two weeks ago, I started applying for jobs. One company said to come in for an interview right away. I did, and it turned out great. Like God given. They offered a position — the door opener! She said, “You’re hired, but we need to do background check and testing before orientation.”
I thought, of course! There is nothing to hide. Now I am good. Why would I be scared? I go in and do all requirements they asked me to do. Then they called and said, “We did a background check, and it’s strange; it’s like there’s nothing on you. It’s like you’re not here, like you never existed.” And so that right there for me was, wow, you know, like all my credentials, my schooling, my volunteer work, some of my work history, everything I’ve ever done has never been there.
That was an awkward situation for me, but I am good. I have all this forte. If you saw my resume, you would be impressed of what I have accomplished in so little time. The person who wanted to hire me was like, “If you’re all this, why we can’t find all that?” I have done this, but when she went looking for schooling, nothing came up. Nothing. She said, honestly, there was nothing.
I come to realize, well, how do I prove I did this? What I can do so I can prove I have really gone to school, really accomplished this? She asked me for so many different things, the way she said it kind of turned me off. I said, “No problem, if I can find what you need, I’ll call you tomorrow.” She needed it by my orientation day.
Later that day, she emailed and asked if I could provide my driving record. It was a downtown job that required my driving permit. That said it all. I couldn’t provide a driver’s license. How can I prove even that? How can I tell them I have a good driving record when I had no license? I felt uncertain again. I always succeed in what I do, you know, I do my best. I knew I could do this job. But everything just said, no.
So I go back to my same situation when I was 14. Once more I come up with the same question, “What shall I do?”