On Sept. 5, the Trump administration announced it was ending the Deferred Actions of Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). DACA was founded by the Obama administration in 2012 that allowed certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit and driver’s license.
The possible end of DACA hasn’t just affected people across the country, but here at Grand Rapids Community College students are feeling the ripple effect. Flora Garcia, born in Guerrero, Mexico, is just one of many locals who could be affected if the program ends.
Garcia, who’s the youngest of six children, was 11 years old when she came to the U.S. with her mother. Garcia’s mother and siblings experienced a long period of physical abuse from her father who struggled with alcohol abuse. Garcia didn’t go through any abuse that the rest of her household went through, but when she turned 2 years old her mother decided to move her and the rest of her siblings out of the house to escape her father.
Two years after Garcia and her family moved out the house, her father died.
“He didn’t leave anything for my mom or for us,” Garcia said. “So my mom had to continue to find different ways to support us.”
Garcia’s mom had to work in the fields near where they were staying. The long hours of labor began to put her mother in a depressed state and she began to turn to alcohol to calm her depression.
“My mom began to be very depressed,” Garcia said. “So that left for my older brother to step up and help her take care of us and he was only 14-years old at the time. He had to drop out of school just to help my mom with us.”
As time went by, her mom overcame her addiction to alcohol and continued to work in the fields. But a new challenge arose as Garcia’s siblings moved out of the camp, and now it was just Garcia and her mom.
That’s when her mother decided that it was time to come to the U.S.
“Basically she had nothing there in Mexico,” Garcia said. “She had no home, she had nothing, that’s why she decided to come to the US, to seek a better life for us.”
During her brief time growing up in Mexico, Garcia never attended school. The early troubles of her abusive father and his alcohol addiction, to go along with her mother working long hours in the fields and suffering from alcohol addiction herself, hindered Garcia’s chances of getting an education. So when she arrived in the U.S. she had no prior education to refer to.
“When we came here my mom was asked why am I not in school?,” Garcia said. “And she would say because we only came here to work in the fields.”
First, they went to North Carolina where they allowed Garcia to work in the fields, and from then on it was all about following where the best crops were.
At 14 years old, Garcia and her mom eventually found their way to Michigan. When they arrived here, Garcia met a friend that asked her: “why are you not in school?”
That repeated question caused Garcia to finally pursue her education.
“At that time I didn’t know I had the power to decide if I wanted to go to school,” Garcia said. “So that’s what I did.”
With approval from her mom, Garcia enrolled in school.
But with not having any prior education under her belt, she was placed right in seventh grade, due to her age. School became a difficulty for Garcia. She didn’t know how to speak or read the English language, so she had to have a translator come with her to every class to help with school assignments and classroom activities.
“It took me that whole year to learn the basics of every subject,” Garcia said. “Sometimes I thought I was crazy, because it was so many different things that I had to learn. To be honest at that time I had no knowledge of what school was about, I didn’t know it was different subjects, like math, writing, history, etc.”
Going into her eighth grade year there was a cut in her school’s budget, which left Garcia’s translator to only be there for her part time.
“I encouraged myself to learn the language (English),” Garcia said. “When my translator was not there I had to do it, I had to be able to perform the basics of speaking English.”
Through all of her early struggles in school, Garcia’s motivation to overcome her academic barriers came from her struggles as a young child in Mexico.
“My brother Francisco was the person that pushed me to continue my academics,” Garcia said. “He was my father figure, he had to drop out of school during that situation with my mom and every time he calls me or I call him he always gives me advice. He told me that he wants me to do something with my life, that he doesn’t want me to be like him or the rest of our siblings. Basically he translated his vision for my life into me, and I had an opportunity to change my life for the better, to the point where I can help him and the rest of my family.”
As Garcia’s academic progress continued to rise, troubles with her family became more repetitive. Garcia’s mom had to return to Mexico to care for her ill grandmother and that left her to stay with her friend’s family.
“It was a very scary time because I didn’t know the family I was staying with,” Garcia. “It didn’t feel right for me, because I was so use to providing for myself and now that I was staying with them.They told me I didn’t have to work. I wasn’t used to that life because I never had that privilege before, and the other challenge was if I was ever going to see my mom again.”
When her mother arrived to Mexico, she got word that her mother’s sister had died. Then two weeks later her grandmother died from illness.
“Of course, I was sad that my grandmother and my aunt passed away,” Garcia said. “But what about my mom? Will I ever see her again? It was a lot of pressure on me and but I decided to stay here and continue to go to school.”
Garcia went on to graduate from high school with her mother in attendance, and decided to take the next step in her education, which was enrolling at Grand Rapids Community College. Garcia received a scholarship to help pay her tuition.
“It was always a little bit scary to move on the next level of education for me,” Garcia said. “But I was always willing to do it because I wanted something better for me and for my future.”
Garcia picked a business administration major when she was officially enrolled in college and says she was inspired by her mother’s business mindset.
“Before I was born my mom had a really small restaurant in Mexico,” she said.”It was maybe the most popular dishes in Mexico. Because of her depression she ended up losing her restaurant. So I decided to do business administration because if I learned how to operate a business it will give my mom another opportunity to open that restaurant again and I’ll be able to help her manage it and find ways to help her make it work. Also, because I didn’t know what I really wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something in business.”
Garcia explains how GRCC has impacted her life.
“Right after I got DACA, I got a job here as a student worker and the people here had a job ready for me,” Garcia said. “GRCC has really made a difference. Here they are really helpful to students. My learning has improved a lot here and has changed me in terms of being able to give my opinion on things, be a leader and inspire others.”
Garcia served as president of the Hispanic Student Union at GRCC for two years.
The DACA program helped Garcia along her journey by helping her pursue her education and enabled her to make a stable living while residing in the U.S.
“If I don’t have DACA I won’t be able to work, I won’t be able to drive, I won’t be able to meet by basic needs,” Garcia said. “DACA is a huge deal for me because I have to be able to get to both of my jobs and attend school, so I had to have my license so I can drive and DACA made that possible for me.”
Garcia said the possibility of the DACA program coming to an end would deeply impact the community.
“If they decided to officially end DACA, then I won’t be able to give back to the community,” Garcia said. “It seems like a small thing now because it doesn’t seem like it affects our communities but if it happens and people start to see large groups of us being deported then they will see that this really does affect our communities.”
Garcia has been worried since she first heard the announcement about the Trump Administration cutting the DACA program.
“I was really scared when I first heard the announcement,” Garcia said. “Obviously, I try not to think about that. I try not to think about my life without DACA, but now I have to. This could potentially happen and it’s a scary feeling of not knowing what’s going to be next. With school starting back up, instead of me focusing on my classes or where I want to transfer, I have to focus on worrying about what’s going to happen if I lose DACA.”
The scary feeling she has isn’t just from not being able to drive or work, but possibly having to face the reality of going back to Mexico – a place she hasn’t been to since she was 11 years old.
“It made me think about what my life would be like if I had to go back to Mexico,” Garcia said. “It’s scary, I don’t even know what state I would go to there because I don’t have anything there, I don’t have a house, or anything. Just the fact of having to go back to the unknown is a scary thing and also I’ll have to worry about my safety if I have to go back there.”
Garcia said some people in Mexico assume that people who have lived in the U.S. are wealthy and this false assumption could make her a target. If they find out “that you used to live there, they think those people are rich just because those people came from the U.S. Sadly, a lot of people have been killed because of that belief.”
On Sept. 13, Democratic leaders said they had reached an agreement to extend the DACA program. However, the following morning, President Trump tweeted that there was no deal made, bringing those affected back to square one.
Garcia ultimately hopes for the best, but is prepared for the worst.
“I still feel shaky about the whole thing,” Garcia said. “I don’t feel confident enough that the right thing will be done, I have to be prepared for anything. If I only think that everything is going to be okay, then all of a sudden it happens then I won’t be prepared. I believe it’s going to be denied, I believe that we will get a lot more support and a lot of people are going to try to help us but I just don’t know whether it’s going to be denied or if they’re going to find something else that can still help us.”
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