A fading dream: The realities of a DACA recipient reaching adulthood

From the editor: Monica Carrillo-Casas is a successful college student. She grew up and attended public school in Idaho, and is now completing her senior year at the University of Idaho. Her grades are exceptional (3.81 GPA) and she’ll graduate nearly debt free — because of hard work and scholarships — with a double major in Spanish and journalism. She wants to be a journalist. But Monica’s work status is in limbo because she was born in Mexico and came to the United States with her parents when she was a baby. Because she came here illegally, she can’t apply for citizenship. She can — and has — applied for protection from deportation every two years via Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) since becoming a teenager. Her current work permit is about to expire. She reapplied for DACA months ago and is anxiously… nervously … waiting for approval from the federal government. It’s different this time because she’s a young adult who wants to live and work in America — she’s no longer a student or child.  But she’ll always live in limbo, unless Congress approves a new pathway to citizenship. Here is her story, in her own words. Some details are missing, to protect her family’s anonymity.


Monica Carrillo-Casas

MOSCOW – The old, soft leather sneakers live in the back of my family’s closet. They’re misshapen from untold miles, with ragged, loose fitting shoelaces.

These were the shoes my mother wore to cross the border more than 20 years ago.

I wonder: What was it was like? Who was she with?

She brushed off my questions until one day it all came out like word vomit. She untied and tied her dirty shoes as her eyes focused on the blank television screen while she told me her journey.

It was rough.

Although she couldn’t think of every detail, she remembered she initially was supposed to cross alone but found a way to my father, who was waiting for her in a motel. They then crossed the border together into the southern cities of California with other strangers, all hoping for the same thing: to live a safer and better future.

Unsure of how everything happened next, she did remember meeting up with my grandparents, who were already with 1-year-old me, my aunts and uncles in California, and driving to their new home in Idaho. Once she got here, she put her shoes in the closet for good luck.

Born in Mexico and expected to live as an American, I attended school, joined the orchestra and vigorously played the violin in my free time. I translated any paper or notice that we would get in the mail because my parents could not speak or read English. It was hard for me to connect with my Mexican culture as I became more immersed in Idaho and what was still to my parents the indecipherable language spoken here.

But then, at age 14 and in the process of applying to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I finally grasped I might never see my home country again.

DACA is a federal program that protects from deportation eligible immigrants who came to the United States when they were children. DACA gives undocumented immigrants a work permit, but it is not a pathway to citizenship. The policy protects around 600,000 young people — known as “Dreamers” — many of whom were under the age of 10 when they arrived.

I am a Dreamer.

I’ve lived in the United States 22 of my 23 years and about to graduate from the University of Idaho with a double major in Spanish and journalism and a minor in international studies.

I’m ready to finish school and go to work. But unlike my classmates, I have to tell potential employers my status is in jeopardy.

I applied to renew my application, which is expensive for me at $495. As I wait for my employment authorization card, I worry it could be rejected and I would have to redo the application. Most days, I sit anxiously and log in twice a day to my portal and read “your application is being actively reviewed” over and over again with the possibility of knowing my current DACA could expire before I get a notification.

If that happened, the path forward would only become more difficult for me.

I would not be able to drive, work or travel – really anything that would make me feel normal in such a frustrating, stressful situation.

Continuing my classes at the University of Idaho won’t be a problem, as it won’t interfere with my application or my “unlawful” presence as I wait for an answer, but life doesn’t stop and bills will only continue to show up in my mailbox.

It’s been over a decade since DACA started and there are days where I appreciate the program for what it is and allowing me to work and drive. But then there are days like these, where I’m not sure where I’m headed or what’s next for me, no matter how hard I work.

A coalition of nine Republican-led states have asked the federal court in Texas to end DACA; it could create a risk of deportation for hundreds of thousands of workers and students around the country — all Dreamers like me. 

This creates a problem in the continuation of education for recipients. With DACA, it’s been proven that 99% of recipients graduate high school and nearly 47% obtain a bachelor’s degree. Even with a positive increase in education, various government officials are against the program.

As of September 2022, there were estimated to be more than 589,000 DACA recipients in the United States. The DACA program accepts applications from returning applicants and prohibits first-time applicants from applying as of right now.

However, the program continues to stay in limbo. DACA recipients are encouraged to renew while they can.

As my DACA nears expiration, so does my belief in the American Dream. This is the reality for many so-called Dreamers.


Monica Carrillo Casas

She is a senior student at the University of Idaho with a double major in Spanish and journalism and a minor in international studies.

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