Humans of Migration: A Dreamer’s Story

January 18, 2019 — Highlighting migrants’ stories and advocating on their behalf has long been a priority for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. Given the hostile portrayal of migrants in debates around immigration today, it is more important than ever that the human dignity of migrants is upheld and respected. 

Beginning during National Migration Week (January 6-12) and continuing over the next several weeks, the Office of Justice and Ecology will feature a series of stories profiling different types of migrants and their advocates. Throughout our work and the work of our partners, we encounter many inspiring people; these are a few of their stories.

Claudia Quinonez had all the hallmarks of a young person with a bright future: She was an A-student, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, and a leader in her church community. Yet none of that mattered. Without legal status, doors that should have been open to someone with her accomplishments, drive, and skills were shut tight — until the Obama Administration launched its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, allowing some individuals brought to the United States as children to temporarily avoid deportation and become eligible for work permits.

Claudia traveled from her native Bolivia to the United States with her mother when she was 11 years old. They entered the United States on a tourist visa, but a lack of opportunities in their home country prompted her mother to decide to overstay their visas. The family’s immigration status was never a secret, although Claudia admits she did not understand its full implications until her freshman year of high school. During the first week of school, students were provided with a “College Roadmap” packet to guide them through the steps for applying to college. While most of her classmates were already familiar with the college admissions process, Claudia felt like a fish out of water. Of greater concern was the financial burden college would impose on her family. As an undocumented student, Claudia did not qualify for most scholarships. “I remember receiving a hand-written response from one of the scholarships I applied for,” recalls Claudia. “The note said I would have received the scholarship were it not for my immigration status.”

With the end of her senior year fast approaching, Claudia found herself staring down the barrel of an uncertain future. Then, President Obama announced his plans for the new DACA policy and suddenly everything changed. By then it was too late to apply for college, but that didn’t dissuade Claudia from pursuing her dream of higher education. She instead enrolled in the local community college, later transferring to Trinity Washington University. “I think that’s a misconception people have about Dreamers,” muses Claudia. “People think we are all perfect students, but so many of us struggled and are continuing to struggle today. I am 24 but [due to extenuating circumstances] I still have three more semesters of college left before I graduate.”

It is her fighting spirit that has helped Claudia overcome her struggles and get her where she is today. “With DACA I began to feel a real sense of belonging,” says Claudia. “Before, there was a lot of uncertainty and insecurity. We used to wonder if one day we would return to Bolivia. But now I have a driver’s license and a social security card. I feel like I can really start to plan a future in the United States.” Claudia has also noticed an increased sense of confidence since gaining DACA status. As a community organizer for United We Dream, Claudia is frequently on the front lines fighting for the human dignity of immigrant communities. She readily uses her own personal story as an advocacy and educational tool throughout her work.

“I am hopeful that Congress can someday pass a clean Dream Act,” Claudia says. But amid this hope, fear and doubt still creep in. “The program was already rescinded once. Despite some positive results from the lower courts, we don’t yet know what the final decision of the Supreme Court will be.” Still, Claudia continues to stay positive by focusing on the future and the opportunities now before her. After college she plans to pursue a graduate degree in either law or business (Georgetown University is her dream school). Above all, she refuses to return to the shadows. Regardless of whether her DACA status is renewed or cancelled, or whether Congress succeeds or fails in passing a permanent solution for Dreamers, Claudia will continue to empower immigrant communities. That part of her future will never change.

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