Brandon Reyes, 20, is a graphic design major at Grand Rapids Community College. He works and takes a full-time classload. He lives with his mom, stepdad and two younger sisters. He loves his family and friends, and often volunteers and does work in the community, more recently at local rallies for immigrants.
When Reyes was 6 years old, he and his mother crossed the Mexican-U.S. border, to escape his abusive father, as well as the country’s poor economy. The desert heat was scorching, and the first time the mother and son tried to cross the border with a coyote, a person who smuggles people across the U.S. border, often for a high cost, Reyes’ small, and frightened body couldn’t handle it.
“We went in a truck,” Reyes said. “Next, the truck didn’t work, it got stuck in the middle of the desert. And after that, he wanted us to push the truck. It didn’t work, and he made us walk.”
Reyes said that when coyotes have trucks, it’s easier for families with children to make the journey through the desert.
“The heat was just so intense,” Reyes said. “I was dehydrated … I was feeling dizziness, I just didn’t want to keep going. My mom saw that I couldn’t keep going, so she decided just to give up.”
Reyes’ mother led them to a road where Immigration police officers often passed through, and turned themselves in. They were taken to jail.
The failed attempt to get across the border cost $4,000. They spent three days in jail near where they were picked up, in Monterrey, Mexico, a city under 150 miles from the Texas border.
The next time they were able to pay $2,500 for a coyote and eventually crossed into Arizona.
“There were Native Americans helping us, and (they) spoke Spanish as well, so it was surprising we could actually communicate with them,” Reyes said. “It was a cabin, it was in the middle of nowhere.”
The cabin was in Arizona, about an eight hour drive from Sonora, Mexico, where Reyes and his mom started their second, and successful, attempt across the border. After that, he and his mother and the others crossing were sent to meet individuals in cars.
“Besides the Native Americans, there were caucasian people who helped too, there were two ladies, they took us in the car,” Reyes said, talking about how they would lower people underneath the seats in the cars. “It was a horrible experience because I didn’t know why we were supposed to get (on) the ground, we’re here (in the U.S.), that’s the point.”
Next, Reyes and his mother were dropped off by the ladies to a Hispanic man in Tucson, Arizona.
“I didn’t see any money being transferred, he did not pay them for anything,” Reyes said. “The Native Americans did the same thing, they didn’t charge anything.”
The man dropped them off in Chicago, where they met with an uncle. Eventually, Reyes and his mother moved to Michigan in November of 2003.
He recalled the first time he experienced snow.
“I freaked out because I thought the sky was falling,” Reyes said. “It was really funny.”
Flash forward to now, and Reyes, 20, is enrolled full-time at Grand Rapids Community College. He works full time at Chervon North America and is studying graphic design. He lives with his mother and step-dad, and two younger sisters.
The reason Reyes is able to work and go to school is because of DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This policy, set by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012, says that certain immigrants who entered the country as minors can receive a two-year renewable deferments from deportation and eligible to get a work permit. Essentially, they are given an “Alien Registration Number” to work as a social security number, so that people like Reyes can work and go to school. They have to do one or the other, to be apart of DACA.
Reyes said he pays $465 every two years to renew this permit. He first got it when he was 16.
Reyes’ mother and stepfather, on the other hand, are both undocumented, meaning they are at risk of deportation at any time. Without DACA, Reyes would face the same uncertainty. His two younger sisters, ages 8 and 10, were both born in the U.S. and are the only ones in the family who are legal U.S. citizens.
Above the stress of his classwork, work, and the current political environment, Reyes carries a lot of worry about his family, losing his family, his mother, being deported and leaving his sisters here alone to be separated in foster care. Reyes takes his sisters to school and to their extracurricular activities while his parents are working. He takes all online classes so that he can have more free time to go to the grocery store and drive his sisters around.
“DACA means a lot to me, just because it gives me (a chance) to work and go to school,” Reyes said. “That’s a privilege and I’m thankful. I’m thankful for America for giving me that.”
DACA recipients are not often on a path to residency. Reyes knows this, and the new administration’s negative narrative on immigration and more intense deportation and border control isn’t making him feel any better about it.
“I feel targeted now,” he said, but at the same time, “I feel more safe having (DACA) than not having it.”
If deported, Reyes said he wouldn’t have a “home” to go to in Mexico, because he’s grown up here his entire life.
“I will always be proud of where I was born, but home is here,” Reyes said. “If I were to get deported I would miss it here just like I miss my family in Mexico.”
This September will mark 14 years that Reyes has lived in America.
Reyes said he thinks the reason the path to citizenship is so difficult for DACA recipients is because the government is making a lot of money off of their bi-annual payments.
At the same time, Reyes is not angry at anyone who doesn’t agree with him being here.
“I was raised to respect other opinions and I still do. I don’t have anything against Trump supporters because it’s the way they were reached to,” Reyes said. “I don’t blame them for that because it brainwashes people.”
In the community, Reyes works with Michigan United to train people on how to help an immigrant who’s being detained. He also helps plan rallies to support immigrants, and sometimes acts as security. Reyes, who can’t vote without U.S. citizenship, also helped register people to vote before election day last fall.
For now, Reyes is working on getting guardianship of his two younger sisters and ownership of the house. He said his family now talks about politics much more at the dinner table and everyone is much more engaged in what’s going on.
“We cherish the moments (together) because we try to stay positive,” Reyes said. “‘Nothing is going to happen,’ my mom says, at the table, making everyone feel safe … We may not stop the deportation but at least we know if it is happening or not, and just hope for the best.”